Reasonable Accommodations in King County Superior Court 

by Linda K. Ridge, Deputy CAO, King County Superior Court 

Access to justice for all persons is a fundamental right; however, for individuals with a sensory, cognitive, or physical disability, this access can be filled with challenges. Implemented in 2007, Washington State General Court Rule 33 (GR 33) was designed to assure that persons with disabilities have equal and meaningful access to the judicial system. 

GR 33 requires courts to provide prompt response to requests for accommodation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60). The rule also requires each court in Washington state to designate a principal point of contact for the public in need of accommodation from the court, and must publish instructions and a request form for the public to use. Courts are permitted to request additional information about an individual’s qualifying disability to assist in determining the appropriate accommodation. The rule applies not only to accommodations needed in court hearings and trials, but also addresses access to court programs and services.   

Once determined to be reasonable and for a qualifying disability under the ADA, accommodations in the form of auxiliary aids and services are provided at no charge to the requestor and may include use of equipment or devices, materials in alternative formats, qualified interpreters, and closed captioning, among others. 

And there is a great deal of need for accommodation in the community accessing court programs and services. In 2019, King County Superior Court’s Access Coordinator fielded over 106 requests for accommodation, and that figure does not capture all accommodations provided by other departments within the court such as Assistive Listening Devices coordinated directly through the Court Operations Department or ASL interpreters scheduled through the Office of Interpreter Services. The number of requests is expected to continue to rise in future years as word circulates within the community that such assistance is available. 

During COVID-19, the types of accommodation that can be offered have had to be adapted to address the unique considerations and constraints presented by the pandemic. The court has endeavored to meet these needs in some unique ways. For example, one individual in a protection order matter required accommodation for profound hearing loss. Typically, this request would have involved assignment of one of the court’s official court reporters to serve as a “CART” reporter as accommodation to the individual party. CART is an acronym for Communication Access Real-time Transcription (or Translation). It is sometimes referred to as real-time captioning or live captioning. A trained court reporter, using a steno machine and specialized software, listens to an event or meeting and creates an instant transcript of what is said. This can be done onsite with a live CART writer (captioner), or remotely with a conference phone or other audio connection for the CART writer to hear the event, and an internet connection for the user to receive the captions.   

Because the court proceeding in this instance was to be conducted via Zoom in order to protect the public’s health as a result of COVID-19, the court identified one of its CART-certified official court reporters who had special technology to stream real-time captioning to the remote party. The reporter provided a weblink to the individual and facilitated CART so that the individual was able to participate fully in the court hearing.   

Coming to court to resolve one’s personal and professional disputes can be stressful, filled with anxiety over the very issues the court is helping to resolve. In many ways, COVID-19 has added to the stresses people with disabilities may experience in pursuing their court matters and accessing the court system. Having a disability shouldn’t add to that anxiety or put an individual at a disadvantage, and the assistance the courts have implemented through GR 33 endeavor to deliver helpful measures to mitigate those effects. 

Linda Ridge serves as the designated ADA/GR 33 Access Coordinator for King County Superior Court. For more information, contact Linda at  Linda.Ridge@kingcounty.gov.