By Jan Pudlow
Before oral arguments at the Florida Supreme Court, Katherine Eastmoore Giddings went to the restroom and noticed water fountains at different heights and wider doors to accommodate people using wheelchairs.
When she stood at the podium as chair of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration Committee, she told the justices that making sure e-filed court documents are ADA compliant is “just the next phase in making sure people can access things.”
“Are we saying that we are going to adopt this rule and all of a sudden all of these documents are going to be compliant? No. It’s going to be a process over time. That’s why the Bar needs to get involved in education,” Giddings said, proposing amendments to Rule 2.525 Electronic Filing.
The proposal mandates that filed documents comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The amendment was prompted by an October 8, 2008, letter from Supreme Court Clerk Thomas Hall, explaining the rule is required “because both federal and state laws, along with interpretations by the appropriate regulatory bodies, now clearly are requiring that electronic documents be made accessible to persons with disabilities. This includes not only electronic documents posted on websites, but those sent by email, given out on media such as DVDs, or shared with employees who have disabilities.”
“Before I started looking into this, I had no clue how to make my documents ADA accessible,” Giddings told the court June 7, in Case No. SC11-52, Amendments to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, as part of the committee’s regular-cycle report.
“And now I’ve got to go back and tell my staff that from now on out, we are going to use styles on our headings in our Word documents, and if we convert them to PDF or e-filing, we’re going to make sure we click the right boxes by the headings.”
Justice Barbara Pariente said: “Seems you would be the perfect person to do a webinar for the rest of the Bar.”
Giddings laughed and said, “I don’t know about that. I do think it’s going to require a lot of education.”
Justice Ricky Polston asked: “Are we currently in compliance with the federal law?”
“I believe that the law says that you have to be compliant to the extent that there’s not an undue burden,” Giddings replied. “And your staff has been working extremely hard at making everything ADA compliant. It’s my understanding that your opinions, when they are issued on the website, to the extent possible, are ADA compliant. This is one more step in facilitating the goal.”
Giddings explained that there are several software programs that read documents — converting from text to speech or text to Braille — but certain things, like pictures, graphics, tables, and charts, can’t be read.
Either using styles in Word or in a PDF, she said, “You would implement a little tag that says: ‘This is a graphic showing Kathi Giddings’ signature’ — so the scanner knows.”
Tables and headings also have to be done in a certain way, too.
“I searched out there and couldn’t find a lot of information,” Giddings said. “There is some on this court’s website, but it doesn’t give step-by-step instructions. I think it would be very, very helpful if we had somewhere — either on this court’s website or the Bar’s website — step-by-step instructions for how to make a document ADA compliant.”
Polston asked if federal law requires all documents filed with the court to be in compliance with ADA or just upon request.
Stressing this is for e-filed documents, Giddings said: “This all arises from section 282.603. That is a statute that says each state agency shall develop, prepare, maintain, and use accessible electronic information that conforms to the ADA. When I first read this, I went, well, state agency: that’s not a court. But after further investigation, that particular act defines state agency to include judicial court records.”
Now, Giddings said if someone makes a request for a brief that has been posted online and is not ADA compliant, Hall calls the lawyer and asks them to resubmit it in an ADA compliant form.
“It took me a while to figure all this out. And now that I know it, it seems fairly easy,” Giddings said. “I talked to my own IT staff, and they thought you had to have a PDF document to be ADA compliant. They didn’t realize you could do it in Word. I think it’s just a matter of education.”