Is Access to Technology a Concern?

April 02, 2020 by Sandy Peters

Is Access to Technology a Concern?

A couple of years ago my stepmother called me and said, “I think I’m ready to find a smart phone.” She was 80 years old at the time and had never used anything other than a flip phone. Further, she has macular degeneration and is legally blind. What could possibly go wrong? I was thinking to myself, “Another free technical support job ... ”

To her credit, she has embraced learning to use her smart phone. Shortly after getting her new phone, she wanted me to help pick out a tablet. She has since turned into an expert on things from Amazon to Facebook (“Face Page,” as she often calls it), Words With Friends, and online grocery ordering.

Because of her macular degeneration issues, she qualifies for an audio book service from the Library of Congress called BARD. She orders books on tape, receives them in the mail after a few days, listens to them, then sends them back. One day, I noticed that she stopped receiving the tapes. I was curious when I saw a USB stick inserted in her BARD-issued listening device. She told me that she gets on the BARD website, downloads 10-15 books, unzippers them (her term), and transfers them to the USB stick. All of which, she figured out on her own.

So much for my quick assumption that she is in an age group that does not have access to technology and can’t learn to use it if they do.

In fact, isn’t that what we often do when we consider using technology to help us be more efficient? We say, “It won’t be fair because everyone can’t use it. We will be excluding a certain group of people (age, socioeconomic, etc.).”

Research released by the Pew Research Center shows that technology adoption is no longer the exception, but the rule.

  • A 2019 study showed that 90% of American adults have access to the internet
  • More than 80% of Americans own a smartphone
  • Around 70% of Americans, regardless of age, are using social media

The facts support the idea that access to technology is not a significant concern in today’s world. Actually, access to and use of technology continues to grow year over year.

So, why aren't courts leveraging it more?

While courts have used technology to help them be more efficient in their “back office” systems, have they taken that same approach in looking for ways to help people resolve their cases more efficiently? Richard Susskind, author of Online Courts and the Future of Justice, predicts, “In the year 2030, by default, cases will be conducted online unless there are compelling reasons to assemble in a courtroom.”

The benefits for constituents are obvious – more online options means the ability to interact with the court from anywhere at any time without having to take time off from work or pay for parking. Further, courts currently implementing more online options have reported an increase in defendant compliance and a decrease in lobby traffic as well as less paper to manage.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about the innovative ways these courts are using technology to improve workflows and ultimately expand access to justice.

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