Technically, it’s not part of their operations.
But members of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority Board spent considerable time at their recent meeting discussing what is becoming a nagging problem with the state’s incipient e-filing system: the requirement that electronic filings meet state and federal laws on disability access.
On the ADA issue, Supreme Court Clerk Tom Hall noted that a rule of judicial administration approved by the Supreme Court last year and effective as of January 1 required compliance with state and federal laws on accessibility for electronic documents.
“That is the implementation of a statute that’s been in existence for about five years” and which requires state agencies to make their electronically available documents ADA compliant, Hall said. He added it’s not a difficult process once understood, but that lawyers are apparently unfamiliar with it.
“In terms of enforcement of the rule [of judicial administration], it went into effect on January 1, and we are not strictly enforcing it, yet,” Hall said. “Candidly, attorneys have not gotten the word that the rule is in effect.”
Complying means that documents are formatted so they can be read electronically by computers to those with visual impairments. That also allows for labeling things like pictures, charts, and other items in the document that can’t be easily read so the digital reader can explain them to the listener.
(The portal authority board has no role in enforcing Bar Rule of Judicial Administration 2.526. The portal is ADA compliant in that documents submitted through it will be converted to the PDF format. But the portal cannot supply or fill in information, such as labels for pictures and charts, that was not provided by the filing attorney.)
Ironically, Hall said understanding how ADA compliance work has helped him in his job. He said if he’s busy, he can have a computer read a document to him while he does other tasks.
For the moment, there are exceptions to compliance. Generally, software created prior to 2006 cannot meet the ADA requirements, and for now users are not required to replace that software.
“That’s an exception,” Hall said.
Most email software does not use text that is ADA compliant, so that is also exempt.
“There’s also a hardship rule, but candidly it is really hard to invoke the hardship rule and win if you were ever sued by somebody,” Hall said.
He also warned that for clerks it’s not just a matter of getting documents that are ADA compliant, but also storing and making them available in an ADA-compliant format. He explained that the commonly used PDF document formatting is compliant, but that many clerks convert files to the TIF format, which is not ADA complaint.
“The court rule really goes to the requirement of the filer to file with the clerk a compliant document. The requirement is on the filer, not the clerk [or the portal authority],” Hall said. “If you [a clerk] get documents that are compliant, you won’t have to do anything to them, but you have to keep them in a compliant format.”
He said he has spoken with the Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service and the office is working on putting together information for lawyers on complying with the new court rule and the ADA. He also said compliance information has been prominently posted on the Supreme Court's website on the clerk’s page.
Aside from the information on the Supreme Court Clerk’s webpage, the Bar’s LOMAS office has finished an online course on complying with Rule 2.526. Course No. 1468R is available for free through Legal Span on the Bar’s website and is expected to be available by late February or early March.