The Courthouse Access Advisory Committee, which the Board organized to promote accessibility in the design of court facilities, presented its recommendations at a meeting of the Board on November 15. The Committee’s report provides design guidance and best practice recommendations for achieving access in courthouses, including courtrooms. It also includes outreach and educational strategies for disseminating this information most effectively to various audiences.
Over the course of its two-year charter, the Committee examined design issues in depth, toured different types of courthouses across the country, and crafted solutions that ensure access without compromising traditional features essential to courthouse design.
A leading focus of the Committee was access to courtrooms, which feature a variety of elevated spaces, including witness stands, jury boxes, and judges’ benches. The report includes detailed recommendations on providing access to these and other courthouse spaces. This guidance is applicable to all types of courthouses at all levels of government. While focused on the design of new facilities, the report also can be used as a resource in the retrofit of existing facilities.
The Committee’s 35 members included courthouse architects, disability groups, members of the judiciary, court administrators, representatives of the codes community and standard-setting entities, government agencies, and others with an interest in the issues to be explored. Committee representatives, including Co-Chairs Eve Hill of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Sam Overton, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, outlined key findings and recommendations of the report in a presentation to the Board.
Access to courthouses remains a problem, even in the design of new facilities, due to a lack of information and awareness. Design features essential to courthouses, particularly courtrooms, pose challenges to access that are not adequately addressed by existing resources. The Committee’s report, according to Board Chair and Deputy Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) David L. Bibb, promises to positively influence the next generation of courthouses by demonstrating how access for all users can be easily met. “I am confident, thanks to the work of this Committee, that future courthouses will fulfill the promise that justice for all means access for all,” Bibb noted.
The Committee’s recommendations will supplement accessibility guidelines the Board maintains under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. Although these guidelines contain provisions specific to courtrooms, many have sought further guidance on how access can best be achieved. The report also contains an outreach and education plan for the Board’s use in disseminating this new guidance and promoting greater awareness.
The Committee held meetings in Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In developing its recommendations, the Committee followed a consensus-based model according to protocols governing Federal advisory committees. Three subcommittees organized by the Committee covering courtrooms, courthouse spaces other than courtrooms, and education and outreach met extensively in between quarterly committee meetings.
In addition to receiving the Committee’s report, the Board visited a full-scale courtroom mock-up organized by GSA and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC). The mock-ups, which were based on sample courtroom plans prepared by AOC, provided a means to test and evaluate some of the Committee’s recommendations. Board and Committee members toured a mock-up of a standard district courtroom, which was reconfigured to represent a special proceedings courtroom.
The Committee’s report includes recommendations that address:
Further information on the committee is available on the committee page.