The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission recently developed an important training video that will help attorneys and legal agencies that work with people with disabilities. The video, Providing Legal Services to Persons with Disabilities, was created to raise awareness and reduce the barriers persons with disabilities face when seeking legal services.
“Projects such as this are a priority because they assist in providing persons with disabilities better access to the justice system,” Justice Janice M. Holder said. “This video will serve as a valuable resource for lawyers. The Court and the Commission commend Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee (DLAC) and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) for developing this tool.”
ATJ Commission committee members and staff from DLAC and VKC provided leadership in developing the video, available at http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/legalservicesvideo. The 12-minute video provides general etiquette tips on interacting with individuals with disabilities and highlights specific examples of common scenarios that people with disabilities encounter when seeking legal services.
“Attorneys will better understand how to provide services to people with disabilities after watching the video,” said Martha M. Lafferty, Managing Attorney at DLAC. “That increased understanding will, in turn, lead attorneys to work with their own clients, opposing counsel, and courts to ensure that disabilities are appropriately accommodated during the entire justice process.”
Another goal of the project is to encourage more lawyers to do more pro bono work with clients with disabilities.
“The Court and Commission want lawyers to feel equipped to handle pro bono (free) or reduced fee cases for clients with disabilities,” said George T. “Buck” Lewis, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission. “We hope that lawyers who watch the video will learn how to address barriers unique to clients with disabilities and provide those clients with meaningful access to the court system.”
The Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Network – which includes the VKC, DLAC, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the UT Boling Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities – offers a number of resources and training opportunities for attorneys across the state who want to learn more about serving clients with disabilities.
“We see this video as a beginning in the partnership with the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission,” Elise McMillan, Co-Director of the VKC for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities said.
The Tennessee Supreme Court announced its Access to Justice campaign in Dec. 2008. This was in response to a growing legal needs gap in Tennessee as indigent and working-poor families faced more legal problems caused by unemployment, predatory loans, uninsured medical bills, domestic violence, evictions and foreclosures. As part of the campaign, the Court created the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission, which is made up of ten members from across the state.
To view the video, visit http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/legalservicesvideo.
For more information on the Access to Justice campaign, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/programs/access-justice.