The WNE Center for Social Justice and MassMutual Foundation Partner to Bring Access to Justice to Greater Springfield

October 12th, 2022

Legal Kiosks Help to Bridge the Digital Divide for Area Residents Lacking Access to Technology

SPRINGFIELD, MA…The Western New England University (WNE) School of Law’s Center for Social Justice, with funding from the MassMutual Foundation, will launch an essential new initiative aimed at closing the digital divide that disproportionally prevents economically disadvantaged Springfield-area residents’ access to the legal assistance they need. The launch event will take place on Monday, October 17 from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services Community Center, 3 Rutland Street in Springfield. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is requested at https://bit.ly/legalkiosklaunch by October 14.

Ongoing public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic have moved much of the legal system online. As a result, access to the legal system and a chance at justice are only available to those with the means and resources to use technology.

Legal Kiosks are computer stations located throughout the greater Springfield area equipped with internet access and legal information available in both English and Spanish. The Kiosks are set up to allow people to easily self-navigate through an electronic interface to get information about free legal services providers and other legal resources. There is also a printer; scanner; and a secure, reliable video conferencing platform in some locations that provides space for people to privately attend online meetings such as remote court hearings.

“The technology gap and resultant shutting out of the court system is the greatest barrier to access to justice in our time,” said Ariel Clemmer, Director for the Center for Social Justice at WNE Law. “In order to successfully navigate today’s courts, litigants need specific technology access, applications, and capacity to enter the courthouse's now virtual front door. We recognized there needed to be a solution that brought technology to the community in a way that people could get the legal help they need.”

Eleven Legal Kiosk stations will be strategically positioned throughout Springfield at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services, Inc.; Western New England University School of Law Library; New North Citizens’ Council; Arise for Social Justice; United Way of Pioneer Valley; and Open Pantry Community Services; as well as the five Springfield City Branch Libraries – Brightwood, Forest Park, Indian Orchard, Mason Square, and the Library Express at Pine Point.

“The other exciting thing we are doing to further bridge that divide is literally putting ‘wheels on the ground’ to reach communities in need,” added Clemmer. “Being able to meet people where they are is critically important, therefore we will be launching a Justice Bus this spring that can bring mobile kiosks and volunteers to high traffic locations like other partners or cities, local festivals, and community events.”

The Justice Bus is a mobile office with a computer station, internet access, desks, and chairs. It will be fully accessible to people with wheelchairs or other special needs and will be equipped with a copier, printer, fact sheets, and informational documents.

“The legal process can be quite intimidating. Removing the barriers and creating an easy, seamless, and efficient process for people who are already systemically oppressed is essential to maintaining justice,” said Clemmer. “It is so rewarding to be able to offer these two tech-based solutions and bring resources to the people who need them.”

The Western New England University's Center for Social Justice works toward advancing social justice through research, advocacy, education, innovation, and public engagement. It is designed to strengthen collaborative efforts between the School of Law and the region to work toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. The Center provides a centralized hub of activity for the School of Law's justice-related teaching, scholarship, and service. It broadens social justice academic offerings; helps students aspiring to be social justice lawyers achieve their goals; imbues a culture of pro bono volunteerism in students, faculty and other legal professionals; manages in-house pro bono projects; and works closely with community organizations and partners to identify and address unmet needs that require a multi-dimensional response cutting across law and other fields. For more information about the Center for Social Justice visit wne.edu/csj.

Western New England University (WNE) is a private, nationally ranked, comprehensive institution with a focus on preparing work-ready and world-ready graduates. Founded in 1919 in Springfield, Massachusetts as a division of Northeastern College, WNE’s 215-acre suburban campus serves more than 3,700 students, including over 2,500 full-time undergraduates. More than 47,000 alumni have earned degrees through its 90+ undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs at Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and School of Law. Students come from 39 U.S. states and territories and 23 countries. Of 45,104 living alumni, 30% remain within the region, residing in the four Western Massachusetts counties and northern Connecticut.

WNE is classified among nationally ranked universities in US News and World Report, and among the Top 100 Undergraduate Engineering programs, and in the Doctoral/Professional Universities category in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.