Recap of Thursday’s Skills Session: Accessibility

MH Mediate co-sponsors regular skills sessions with the CUNY Dispute Resolution Center.  Last week’s session focused on applying accessibility principles to ADR.  See our notes below.

Accessibility vs. Accommodations

With an accommodation, the burden is on the disabled person to disclose, while accessibility puts the burden on the public service to design the process to work without disclosure.  We engaged in a discussion applying the following universal design principles to mediation, in order to create accessibility:


Equitable Use

  • Is mediation equally appealing to parties with different needs and abilities?

    No.  Some people come to mediation reluctantly.  It may be less appealing if it’s a less familiar culture, leading the participant to feel confused or at a disadvantage.  It might be less appealing to people who are caught in a power imbalance.  Some people have less ability or desire to articulate.  Some people are less comfortable with conflict, and many are wary to enter a process with someone who has been an adversary.  Some may be nervous about how they will behave because they feel they have less self-control and may escalate during the session.
  • How can we make it more appealing to parties of different needs and abilities?
    • The opening statement can provide an opportunity to make everyone feel welcome.  
    • Maria suggested meeting with parties in advance, for pre-sessions.  
    • Another participant suggested using forms as a tool to gather people’s preferences before the sessions begin.  
    • To make these universal design processes, everyone would receive a pre-session or the same forms or opening statements.  
    • To be appealing to those who prefer to read, the opening statement could also be made available on paper.  And perhaps in different literacy levels, or at a very low literacy level.  
    • To be appealing to those who want time to digest information in advance, the opening statement could be available in advance by mail or e-mail


Flexibility in Use

  • Is mediation flexible to use?
    Not always.  Sometimes people have set session lengths or practices, going so far as having a very prescribed process (one participant mentioned a 4-step process she heard a lot about).  
  • How can we make it more flexible?
    • Give parties an opportunity to choose amongst different mediation process styles, or mediator styles.  
    • Different session times
    • Different modes of communication in session (written in addition to speaking)
    • Different frequencies of break
    • Different amounts of “shuttle diplomacy” 
    • Mediate that session structure between the parties involved.


Simple and Intuitive Use

  • Is mediation simple to understand and use regardless of party’s experience and knowledge and concentration level?
    No, few people seem to have a full understanding of what mediation is and oftentimes they treat the mediator like a judge.
  • How can we make it more easy to use and understand?
    • We can use check-ins throughout the process.  
    • Present information in mutliple ways.  
    • Send the agreement and opening statement in advance.  
    • Be clear about support people being welcome, and how to invite them.


Perceptible Information

  • How can we make it easy for people to perceive what’s going on?
    • Check-ins.
    • Graphs, charts, diagrams.  
    • Repetition. 
    • Using media such as YouTube videos to explain the process.


Tolerance for Error

  • How can we make the process reduce the consequences of accidental or unintended actions?
    Mediator can suggest a guideline up-front that we know people are not speaking perfectly and they can always correct something they said later.


Low Effort

  • Does mediation avoid requiring too much exertion from the parties?
    No, sometimes it does require intense amounts of effort to maintain composure.
  • How can we reduce the amount of effort people use?
    • Guidelines that the parties should ask if they feel high effort, because mediator’s job is to reduce it.
    • Schmoozing and creating a good vibe in the sessions
    • Offering food or coffee