Court access for people with aphasia (Sherratt, 2022)
Purpose: Communicative access to participate in daily life is of paramount importance to individuals with communication disorders such as aphasia. Access to the courts may present additional hurdles due to inaccessible legal information and resources, lack of awareness of legal issues, high costs, and the communication disabilities involved in testifying and giving evidence. To address these challenges, this study aims to determine the issues faced by people with aphasia (PWA) accessing the court system in the United States as victims, plaintiffs, or defendants.
Method: Using the LexisNexis and Google Scholar case law databases, a systematic review of all U.S. court cases (1915–2021) documenting aphasia/dysphasia revealed 1,926 case reports. After elimination for exclusion criteria, 389 were analyzed using data software to identify types of cases, description and assessment of aphasia, health professionals, and accommodations provided. To facilitate access to this large amount of data, quantitative descriptive statistics are provided and exemplified with quotes.
Results: Analysis revealed the continued confusion and inaccuracy surrounding the terms “aphasia/dysphasia,” the lack of knowledge about these deficits both generally and within the justice system, and the absence of involvement of speech-language pathologists. Assessments of PWA were usually conducted by psychologists or medical professionals, and accommodations to allow greater participation for PWA were rarely permitted.
Conclusions: PWA are at continued risk of being unable to access and participate in the justice system. The speech-language pathology scope of practice means that we have no choice but to raise awareness of access to court for PWA and to advocate for the role of speech-language pathologists within the health and legal professions in assessing, supporting, and developing strategies to facilitate PWA to be more equitable members of society and equal participants in the justice system. Three practical strategies to facilitate their more equitable participation in the court system are detailed.
Supplemental Material S1. Case law references.
Sherratt, S. (2022). Court access for people with aphasia: A review of case law from 1915 to 2021. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2022_PERSP-21-00294