Back in 2004, the Legal Services Corporation sponsored a law kiosk for an “online legal service center” on Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Read an article from back when it was debuted. It meant to deliver access to justice, specifically for consumer and tax law.
“DNA Peoples Legal Services installed computer kiosks throughout the 25,000 miles of Navajo and Hopi Nations located in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico through a Technology Initiative Grant from Legal Services Corporation. These web-based kiosks connect to the Internet via satellite and DSL allowing users to access legal information through either spoken instructions delivered in English, Hopi or Navajo or written instructions in English. To further increase accessibility, DNA created custom graphic icons to help clients navigate the website. These touch-screen kiosks, installed in each of its nine offices located on or near Hopi and Navajo reservations, provide information through DNA’s internal web server on issues such as Consumer Law, Tax Law, Trash and Recycling, and information on free income-tax seminars. These kiosks allow DNA People’s Legal Services to better serve these Southwestern Native American communities, which spans across an immense geographical area.
DNA is a nonprofit agency providing free civic legal services to low-income people in its service areas—which happen to cover Navajo and Hopi reservations.
DNA was awarded a technology grant by the Legal Service Corp. to find an innovative way to deliver legal services to clients spread over a vast area— more than 25,000 square miles—with a very small staff.
DNA’s task is challenging: to provide help with legal chores such as name changes, simple divorces and guardianships.
The help is sorely needed. Much of the population in DNA’s service area is under-educated, and poor enough to lack such basic amenities as a phone in the home, let alone a computer.
Language is also an issue for DNA’s clients. “Most of our clients don’t speak or read English,” said Chris O’Shea Heydinger, director of development and information technology for DNA.
“They certainly don’t read in their native languages,” an accomplishment that is limited only to university graduates who pursue the study of Native American languages as an academic subject. Neither Navajo nor Hopi was codified as a written language until the mid-20th century.
A technological solution of some sort was required, rather than simply offering stacks of self-help brochures at DNA offices, precisely because written materials would be no help at all to most clients.
DNA’s answer, built by NBG Solutions, is a kiosk equipped with a touch-screen web browser that can be navigated using custom-designed icons supplied by DNA—for example, a traditional hogan (Navajo house) denoting the home page, and an arrowhead denoting “back” or “forward.”
With the kiosks already delivered and waiting, DNA is in the last stages of designing its web site to deliver spoken information in Navajo or Hopi, depending on where the kiosk is located.
Clients will be able to navigate the graphics-intensive web site to the services they need, and will be able to listen to instructions in their native language, then print out forms as they need them.
The web site, “a labor of love,” according to Heydinger, will go live in April.
The kiosks will be connected to the internet via satellite, because the reservations are so far from the internet backbone.