Florida Rural Legal Services collaborates with local library systems in four rural counties to create a convenient delivery system for legal aid and community information to low-income people. A combination of video cameras, scanners, printers and Internet connections enable an individual to consult with a legal advocate as easily as if the visit were in the lawyer’s office. The equipment can be controlled remotely by the attorney or paralegal, so the individual does not need to understand the technology. Documents can be exchanged, so both parties are viewing the same information. Papers ready for court filing appear at the side of the client. Screens and instructions are provided in English, Spanish, Haitian and Creole, and local library staff can also assist clients in initiating contacts with legal advocates.
Individuals in rural areas may find it difficult and inconvenient to access legal information and services. These populations often need legal aid to help people get and keep housing, jobs, food and health care.
The program is funded as a national demonstration project by the Telecommunications Infrastructure and Information Assistance Program of the US. Department of Commerce. It is designed to address the absence of many services taken for granted by urban-dwellers, because those services cannot be supported by small population pockets separated by vast distances. Additionally, it is designed to address the issue that services that do exist are often not utilized effectively because the far-flung population either does not know they exist or cannot get to them.
The same Internet equipment also offers online community news for areas that have no local newspaper. Future enhancements are intended to include information about public housing, with applications online and staff to help fill out forms.
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