Ottawa’s 58th District Court Focuses on Access for All Citizens

pledgeoffairnessAt a recent day of professional development, 58th District Court staff were administered a “Pledge of Fairness” by Chief Judge Bradley S. Knoll. Under oath, all court staff pledged to each litigant, defendant, victim, witness, juror and person involved in a court proceeding to, “listen to you; respond to your questions about court procedure and treat you with respect.”

The events of the day were organized by the 58th District Court judges and leadership team who partnered with Robyn Afrik, Ottawa County Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director and Lucia Rios, Disability Advocate and Access Consultant. The curriculum was geared toward a recognition by all court staff that their pledges of fairness require extra and more strategic efforts to assure equal access to all court users, including those with disabilities.

Prior to the training, court staff inspected the three courthouses, attempting to view the experience through a diverse citizen’s perspective. Employees noted both facility and procedural characteristics, adequacy of signs, languages expressed, appropriate privacy, disability barriers and other attributes. These observations were discussed at the training and action plans were initiated to improve both functional and operational access to the 58th District Court.

Ms. Jeannette Johnson, a Rights Representative from the Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, also presented on understanding and serving the needs of the Deaf/deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing population.

Moving forward, District Court will continue this important work by collaborating with and working alongside Afrik in the Ottawa County Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office. The Court also plans on engaging Lucia’s expertise to remove identified barriers for people with disabilities in the courthouses as well as provide additional training on accessibility standards and sensitivity training under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are very grateful for the contributions of Robyn and Lucia to the staff training on this very important issue and look forward to continuing to partner with them to help us recognize and accommodate the needs of all person having business with the Court,” said Chief Judge Knoll.

Ottawa County began its Cultural Intelligence initiative in 2013 with the formation of an internal committee tasked with educating employees, hosting an annual forum and getting more involved in community diversity initiatives. Five years later, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners established the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office on December 11, 2018. The DEI office will lead the development of an equity plan for not only the courts, but for all departments and offices of Ottawa County. A key initiative will be identifying implicit bias in internal policies, procedures, practices, and in external service delivery. This work is critical to continuously improve County services.