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This Report examines the experiences of cognitively disabled self-represented litigants (SRLs) who have requested accommodations for their cognitive disabilities.

Cognitively disabled SRLs have increasingly reached out to the NSRLP detailing their frustrations with the accessibility of legal proceedings and the barriers they face in requesting accommodations for their disabilities. In response, we have sought to clarify the challenges faced by these individuals in order to make specific recommendations to Canadian Courts. A secondary goal of the study was to begin a preliminary investigation into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on cognitively disabled SRLs’ ability to secure accommodations.

The 10 participants were all Canadian adults with cognitive disabilities. We used data collected via semi-structured interviews and qualitative content analysis to determine the nature and extent of the challenges faced by cognitively disabled SRLs while requesting accommodations, and to determine whether the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted these experiences.

We found that participants were generally unaware of available resources and the appropriate processes they should follow to request accommodation due to inaccessible or unavailable informational materials. Participants overwhelmingly reported that the Court had made no effort to assist them, and many described how Court employees and judges treated them with hostility and dismissiveness.

Based on these results, the we have recommended that judges, court services employees, and members of the Bar receive training on the nature of cognitive disabilities and court resources and procedures, and that accommodation policies be better communicated and advertised to SRLs.

In addition to this report, participants’ testimonies and the NSRLP’s recommendations were presented to the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee in June of 2021. Segments of the interviews may be heard in our podcast episode, “Struggling for Accommodation.”

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