Disability Access

Learn about ADA compliance in the North Carolina Courts and resources for special needs/disability services.

About

What is a “reasonable accommodation”?

A “reasonable accommodation” means that court personnel will try to work with you to provide access to court facilities, processes, or events. This may be a change or modification in policies, procedures, or practices that are necessary to provide equal access to the courthouse or court processes for a person with a disability. Depending on the circumstances, the reasonable accommodation you receive may not be your first choice of accommodation.

Who can I contact to request an accommodation for court?

Most county courthouses have a local Disability Access Coordinator who is responsible for arranging accommodations. If you have an attorney, he or she can contact this person to arrange your accommodation. Otherwise, you can contact the local Disability Access Coordinator yourself. If your county does not have a local Disability Access Coordinator, you can contact the Clerk of Court’s office at the courthouse. If possible, arrange for accommodations at least two weeks before your court date because some accommodations take time to schedule.

What information do I need to provide to request an accommodation?

You will need to tell court personnel that you have a disability and describe your individual needs as a result. If your disability is not obvious, you may need to provide a note from your healthcare provider explaining your needs.

Do I need to tell people what my disability is to get an accommodation?

No. You should explain to court personnel that you have a disability and any specific needs that you have.  If you need a note from your healthcare provider, the note does not have to say what your disability is, but it does have to explain how it affects you. For example, if you have diabetes, your note can say that you have a disability that requires you to eat regularly on a strict schedule. It is up to you whether you ask your healthcare provider to name your disability or not.

What legal resources are available to me as a person with a disability?

Disability Rights North Carolina provides legal assistance to people with disabilities in some situations. You can view resources for common issues faced by people with disabilities here. You can view additional resources for many areas of law commonly faced by people unable to hire an attorney here. See the Finding an Attorney Help Topic for information about finding a private or nonprofit attorney to assist you with your case.

I am deaf or hard of hearing. How can I get a sign language interpreter?

Contact your local Disability Access Coordinator  or Clerk of Court's Office for more information about requesting a sign language interpreter. Other communication access is also available, including CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) and Cued Speech Transliterators. You can find out more about court accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing here.

Are all courthouses wheelchair accessible?

You are guaranteed the right of access to court proceedings. However, some older courthouses were built before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and may not be 100% accessible. For this reason, you should discuss your disability-related needs with your attorney or court personnel as early as you can. With appropriate notice, court personnel can ensure that court is held in a location that is accessible to you.

Can I bring medical devices with me to court?

Yes. You will generally need to go through a metal detector on entering the courthouse and may need to explain any devices that could cause an alarm.

Can I bring medication with me to court?

Yes. You can bring medications to court and take them during a recess, or step outside the courtroom to take them while other cases are being handled as long as you are available when your case is called. If you may need to take medications while your case is being handled, you should tell your attorney in advance. If you do not have an attorney, let the judge know when your case begins. When it comes time to take your medication, tell your attorney or respectfully let the judge know that you need to take a break.

What if my medications contain a controlled substance?

You can bring medications including controlled substances to court if necessary. It may be helpful to ensure that you bring the prescription bottle with a label showing that the medication has been prescribed to you in case of any confusion. If your medication may affect your ability to testify, you should explain this to your lawyer in advance, or to the judge when you are called to testify. If your medication may affect your behavior while in court, you should discuss this with the Disability Access Coordinator in advance, or let the bailiff know in the courtroom.

What are the rules for bringing a service animal to court?

Service animals are permitted to go wherever their handler goes, including courtrooms and other areas of the courthouse. Court personnel may ask you two questions to determine if your service animal meets the legal requirements for access: 1) Are you a person with a disability? and 2) What work or tasks does the animal perform for you? Court personnel can also ask you if the service animal is registered with the North Carolina service animal registry. If you have not registered your animal, this does not affect your ability to bring the animal to court. If your service animal interrupts court proceedings, the judge can order that the service animal be removed from the courtroom.

What are the rules for bringing an emotional support animal to court?

An emotional support animal (sometimes called therapy animals or assistance animals) are animals that help with the symptoms of a disability, but have not been individually trained as a service animal. These animals may be able to come to court on a case-by-case basis. You or your attorney should contact the courts about this accommodation in advance. Be prepared to explain how your emotional support animal would help you remain calm or otherwise assist you during court proceedings. Court personnel may need to meet the animal to observe its behavior and determine if it will interrupt court proceedings before agreeing to this accommodation.

Will the courts provide a transcript of the proceedings for me?

The courts do not provide written transcripts. If your hearing was in civil district or superior court or in criminal superior court, there will be an audio recording of the hearing. You can request the recording for a $5 fee. Private court reporters can make an official transcript of the recording.  A list of approved Court Reporters may be found here.

Accommodation Disputes

What can I do if I believe a judge did not properly consider my disability when making a decision about my case?

Once a judge has made a decision, it can be overturned only by filing a motion to set aside the decision or through an appeal. An attorney can advise you about the best way to challenge a particular decision. You also have the right to file a complaint with the Judicial Standards Commission if you believe a judge has behaved unethically. Local Disability Access Coordinators, other court personnel, and the Administrative Office of the Courts staff cannot change a judge’s decision once it is made.

What can I do if I got to court and my agreed upon accommodations were not provided.

You should contact your local Disability Access Coordinator if your county has one. If not, you can explain your needs to court personnel.

What can I do if I believe the judge is ignoring my accommodations?

You or your attorney should respectfully explain your needs to the judge and contact your local Disability Access Coordinator if necessary.

What can I do if my local Disability Access Coordinator denied the accommodations I requested?

If you requested an accommodation from staff at your courthouse and your request was denied, you can follow the NCAOC’s Grievance Procedure and contact the Court Programs and Services Division at (919) 890-1400.  Please be aware that if you contact the NCAOC without first discussing your request with staff at your local courthouse, you will be directed to contact your local Disability Access Coordinator or other local court personnel first.