Hear the difference: the case for using ODR to improve legal disputes

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platforms can help resolve disputes for the audio-impaired community through API integrations of on-demand Indian Sign Language (‘ISL’) interpretation services with their platform.

Hear the difference: the case for using ODR to improve legal disputes

Friday April 14, 2023,

5 min Read

The American Journal of Forensic Psychology asserts that litigation is so disruptive that it can cause ‘Litigation Response Syndrome (LRS)’. LRS can be defined as stress problems caused due to litigation. The process of filing a case or appearing in court is daunting for any regular person. Now imagine having to take on this process while being audio impaired and mute.

The Government of India has done a commendable job in taking initiatives to ensure accessible legal aid to all persons with disabilities. Section 12 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 is an example of this. Section 12 dictates that government shall ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to access courts, tribunals etc. Further, it adds that the Government along with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) shall take steps to put in place suitable support measures for persons with disabilities.

In April 2022, the Ministry of Law and Justice notified that as a part of taking steps for providing ‘Legal Aid to the Disabled’ the NALSA had launched the Legal Services Mobile App to enable easy access to legal aid. The app was launched with the aim that anyone from any part of the country may apply for legal aid-related services and also for permissible assistance from the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, 37 State Legal Services Authorities, 39 High Court Legal Services Committees, 672 District Legal Services Authorities and 2282 Taluka Legal Services Committees.

However, there is a need to define what “accessibility” means. According to ‘Enable India’, a non-profit organisation that aids persons with disabilities by creating opportunities for enabling them to become economically independent, there are more than 19 different kinds of disabilities. While we club all disabilities into one broad term of ‘persons with disabilities’, the meaning of accessibility is different for each of them.

According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), there are around 18 million audio-impaired individuals in the country. Studies reveal that it is more plausible for audio-impaired people to suffer from mental troubles such as depression and anxiety. Psychologists suggest this originates from feelings of isolation due to a lack of being understood by people around them. While the audio impaired and mute have learned to adjust to many situations, they continue to face many challenges, especially as a litigant in this country.

The legal system in our country relies heavily on verbal dialogue, which is a barrier for the audio-impaired community since they cannot comprehend and participate in verbal exchanges. The usage of technology has enabled us to break down and create an equal level playing field. However, the introduction of an app may not be the full solution. Even this innovative technology-driven solution needs to be re-designed with accessibility in mind to be truly accessible.

The Government of India (Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) released a draft of the new ‘National Policy for Persons with Disabilities’ in May 2022 and invited public comments on the same. On behalf of the audio-impaired community, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) responded with a comprehensive list of comments/suggestions for the ministry to implement in the policy.

Among many suggestions, an important one mentioned was ensuring the availability of Indian Sign Language (‘ISL’) interpreters for court cases and providing appropriate legal training to ISL interpreters for better translation and communication of legal matters to the audio impaired.

Every country has its own Sign Language, just like any other verbal language to communicate. India has ‘Indian Sign Language’ (ISL). ISL uses both hands to create a Sign to represent a word or an expression.

The fact that this sort of recommendation was made shows that there is still a lack of infrastructure and proper steps to make legal aid “accessible” to the audio-impaired community.

Leveraging online dispute resolution (‘ODR’) could be the key to solving all these problems. ODR enables access to India's dispute resolution ecosystem through cost-effective solutions remotely facilitated by technology.

ODR service providers can help resolve disputes for the audio-impaired community through API integrations with various assistive technologies. Integration of on-demand ISL interpretation services, video calling with no lags, and live transcription of dialogues would be a good place to begin. In addition to this, ODR service providers should also look to collaborate with institutes like the Indian Sign Language Training and Resource Centre (ISLTRC) to draft legal training modules in ISL for audio-impaired lawyers and ISL interpreters. With the advent of smartphones with 4G and 5G, ODR platforms can be accessed at the click of a button.

Saudamini Pethe is an audio-impaired lawyer enrolled in the Bar Council of Delhi; she fights her clients’ cases in court with the aid of an ISL interpreter. Sarah Sunny is another young audio-impaired lawyer who recently enrolled in the Bar Council of Bangalore. Facilities and opportunities are still lacking for the audio-impaired community to be on par with any hearing individual. The aim is to enable this community to fight their legal battles independently be it in the capacity of a lawyer or of a litigant. It is time for the rest of the legal community to make advances towards making the justice system more accessible for them.

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