Disability-Accessible Courtrooms


Courtrooms must be accessible to judges and staff, attorneys, and the public, as well as prisoners.

Staff Workstations

Staff workstations, including the judge's bench, clerks' workstations, court reporter, and bailiff, must be accessible to the disabled if a staff member currently requires those modification. If accessibility is not currently required, the space should be adaptable for accessibility at a later date.

Best Practice: At least one of each type of courtroom should be accessible to disabled staff immediately.

The judge's bench need not be accessible initially if the judge it serves is not disabled, but should be adaptable for future needs. This will require space to accommodate a wheelchair and unobstructed turning space within the bench, an accessible path to the bench, and an accessible desk with proper knee space. The preferred route to the bench within the courtroom shall occur at the same level as the bench. Any transition to this raised level (steps, ramp, or lift) should occur outside the courtroom and out of view of the public and court participants. For purposes of emergency or security evacuation, as well as ease of independent operation, judges may prefer ramp access.

Best Practice: Locate ramps or lifts outside the courtroom or at least out of view from the well and public gallery

The courtroom clerk's area and the court reporter's station need not be accessible but should be adaptable for future needs. This will require space to accommodate a wheelchair and unobstructed turning space within the workspace, an accessible path to these work areas that coincides with the normal circulation path to the area, space to locate a permanent ramp or lift, and an accessible desk. Raised floor levels at the clerk's position may be served with movable ramp.

Attorney Tables

The attorney tables should be accessible with adequate access to and maneuvering room behind a table. Microphones, if provided, should be movable and have a long neck.

Public Seating

Public seating within the courtroom should include accessible wheelchair spaces. Requirements for the number, location, and dispersal of accessible wheelchair spaces should comply with the appropriate applicable requirements for assembly areas.

Wheelchair seating:
  • At least one wheelchair space is required in assembly areas with up to 25 seats; at least two are required in those with 26 to 50 seats.
  • Locations must adjoin an accessible route and not overlap the main aisle.
  • Must be at least 36 inches wide and 48 inches deep if a front approach is provided, or 60 inches deep if a side approach is provided.
  • Must provide a level surface and be adjacent to a companion so that the person using a wheelchair is provided shoulder alignment with the person in the adjacent seat.
  • Where armrests are provided on seats, 5% of the aisle seats must have folding or retracting armrests. If the seats are benches, end caps may remain.
  • Locations can overlap the pathway between rows. However, spaces should be designed so that an individual using a wheelchair does not have to move out of the row to allow others to access the row.

Best Practice: Wheelchair seating locations should be dispersed, so that individuals using wheelchairs have the same sight lines and variety of choices as other spectators.

Jury Box and Witness Stands

All jury boxes and witness stands are required to be fully accessible. Section 808.3 requires that each jury box and witness stand should be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair within its defined area. Access to this wheelchair space shall coincide with the circulation path provided for all persons using the jury box. If this wheelchair space is located on a tier within the jury box, a permanent ramp or lift, located on the circulation path used by all jurors, may be used to access this space.

In alterations, the wheelchair spaces may be located outside the defined area of the jury box or witness stand, if the ramp or lift access poses a hazard to any required egress from the courtroom.

A simple solution to both jury box and witness accessibility is to place the first tier of the jury box and the witness stand at floor level, thus eliminating the need for ramps or lifts at these locations. Care needs to be exercised, however, to ensure that this does not interfere with proper sightlines within the courtroom. Depending on the location of the witness stand, lowering it to floor level may partially obstruct the view of the witness by attorneys or some jurors.

Lectern

If a lectern is required by the court, the court should provide either an adjustable or a fixed lectern with the counter or desk height between 28 inches and 30 inches above the floor and knee space at least 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches deep. A clear floor space of 30 by 49 inches shall be provided at each accessible lectern. A movable lectern that is designed to be wheelchair accessible can be provided within the court facility and moved to a particular courtroom when needed. Such a lectern can be purchased commercially.

Assistive Listening System

A permanent assistive listening system is required in 50 percent of all courtrooms, and in at least one of each type of court­ room provided in a building. A portable assistive listening system may be used in those courtrooms that lack a permanent system. Receivers for this system should be provided for a minimum of 4 percent of the room occupant load, but there should be at least two receivers. The system should accommodate the public, as well as attorneys, jurors, judges, witnesses, court clerks, and court reporters. Two-track systems are now available that allow interpreters to transmit translations of court proceedings with the same system. Consideration should be given to accommodate other assistive systems and equipment, including real-time transcription.

Microphones, if provided at the judge's bench, witness stand, attorney tables, and other positions within the courtroom, should be adjustable for minor movement within each space. A gooseneck microphone will suffice for this.



Specific recommendations for provisions for disabled individuals are suggested for Jury Assembly and Deliberation areas, central holding cells, court-floor holding facilities and specific courtroom elements.

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Needs of Persons with Disabilities


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