Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Called For Jury Duty – Again – Better Luck Next Time

I have just been called for jury duty. This is going to be interesting on two fronts – 1st I won’t be in the country at the time, and 2nd my last experience was a disaster. I wonder how things are going to turn out this time.

Not being in the country is simple enough – I can ask to defer my jury duty, and I will. But I really wonder what is going to happen this time.

I was called in November 2007. But I was not allowed to serve because apparently the courtroom wasn’t sufficiently accessible! On the day I was called, I showed up and was met by a series of obstacles:

  • Construction at the building meant that there was no signage pointing to the temporary lift. It took about ten minutes to find the thing and then some more time to find someone to operate the lift.
  • The metal detector device was too narrow to let me through in my wheelchair.
  • I had to get out of the building through the door I came in – disturbing a long line of people behind me.
  • I had to get back in the building through the exit – a guard had to open the door for me.

These were somewhat embarassing.

Then I had to fight a rather thick carpet that acted like quicksand and made it rather difficult to push my wheelchair.

Next, I was to wait in the jury waiting area.

  • The area had no space for wheelchair users.
  • The space was filled with people – I had to wait outside the door until everyone was in.
  • I was rather conspicuous as I got back in the room.
  • Late comers had to literally climb over me to get in the room.

This was also rather embarassing.

We were made to watch an informational video, then we were asked if there was any reason we were unable to attend jury duty. Some people raised their hands and were called outside. The clerk told me to join them.

The clerk informed me that I was being excused from jury duty because:

  1. While I could get in the courtroom, the jury area in the courtroom is raised and accessed with some steps.
  2. The jury deliberation room is through a "narrow’ish" door.
  3. There is no accessible toilets in the deliberation room.
  4. Once someone is selected for jury duty, they are not allowed to use the main entrance – the only entrance/exit to the jury room is at the bottom of a long flight of steps. There were no lift available.

While I had no particular desire to be a juror, I was disapointed that I was not allowed to do my civic duty.  I take my civic
responsibilities as a citizen seriously, and it was a “blow” to be turned away.  Considering the large number of people with disabilities in New Zealand(more than 20% of the population according to the last census), it is surprising that nothing more is done to allow better access.  

How can the jury be representative if a fifth of the population is excluded on the basis of disability?  Considering that the first accessibility requirements in the New Zealand Building Act date back to 1973, it is also somewhat surprising that the court
building is still lacking in accessibility.  The court officials obviously knew about the barriers, as they were the ones to inform me about them.  So there is awareness of the problems on the part of the Court, but the barriers still existed at the time.

I wrote to the Clerk of the Court, and carbon copied the Human Rights Commission on my complaint. The Clerk of the Court told me that I had been misinformed on the day I was at court – some of the issues I was told about had easy ways to get around them. Basically they brushed aside my complaint.

Well, I *do* want to do my civic duty. It will be very interesting to see how things turn out this time.

"Stay tuned, news @ eleven!"