03 March 2022
LSA’s Disability and Social Justice Project: Early Reflections
The last quarter of 2021 saw the Legal Services Agency launch a new project concerned with improving access to justice for disabled people in Scotland. Through developing a new specialist disability practice we will help disabled people in Scotland enforce their rights, challenge injustice, and reduce the day-to-day discrimination that they face While the project is focused on providing individual representation and advice, alongside identifying potential opportunities for strategic litigation to challenge systemic policy and practice issues, we will also be working to raise awareness of disabled peoples’ rights both in disabled communities and throughout the broader community in Scotland.
Key to the success of this project is our collaborative work with Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) and other third sector organisations working with disabled people to inform our work and help ensure that is it truly inclusionary, intersectional and accessible.
In the first few months we have met with many of these organisations, listening to their concerns and learning from their experience and established knowledge. A common theme that has arisen in our discussions is that a specialist service such as ours is long overdue to compliment the lay support and advice services that already exist. But it is also clear that we have a lot to learn to ensure we provide a service that is fit for purpose. Key issues around the challenges that disabled people face in accessing legal services which have arisen from our conversations are around communication and language. Time and time again communication arises as a major barrier that people face in accessing legal services. This can be in a variety of ways including, but not limited to:
- A lack of awareness and provision around British Sign Language (BSL) and other communication methods used by D/deaf people, while there is good awareness around the use of interpreters for those from other countries the same cannot be said for BSL;
- The use of inaccessible websites, forms and emails which do not function well with screen readers or other auxiliary aids used by blind and visually impaired people;
- A lack of patience and understanding when dealing with neurodiverse clients, who may communicate in a manner which is unfamiliar to those working in legal services and the court system.
- Documents not being available in an ‘easy read’ format which is accessible to those living with learning disabilities.
Additionally, when considering the language used around disability it is important to note that there are many people who fall under the legal definition of having a disability who do not identify as being disabled. This is particularly evident in the evident in D/deaf and Neurodivergent communities where there are many people who see themselves as being simply having a different form of communication to the majority of people rather than being disabled.
We are taking the time to listen to DPO’s and disabled people and hope that the learning that we do can help address some of the issues that disabled people face in accessing legal services. Already the project has attracted a number of new clients and enquiries from across the county from people who had struggled to find advice, assistance and representation in the legal issues that they face. We know we have a lot of learning to do and we hope to be able to share this with the wider legal community to improve the provision generally for disabled people in Scotland.
The Disability and Social Justice Project is delivered by the Legal Services Agency through funding provided by the Scottish Ministers through the Equality and Human Rights Fund.