Federal Judge to Hear Motion on Whether a Blind Law School Graduate Will Receive Requested Accommodations on the February 2010 California Bar Examination

Jan 28, 2010, 14:17 ET from National Federation of the Blind

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Friday, January 29, 2010, United States District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer  will hear a motion on whether a blind law school graduate will receive the accommodations she needs on the February 2010 California Bar Examination. This hearing, scheduled for 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 8, 19th Floor, at the Phillip Burton United States Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco, stems from a suit filed on November 3, 2009 alleging that The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) discriminates against blind and low vision law school graduates. The suit charges that the NCBE is violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California's civil rights law by denying accommodations on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).  

The Plaintiff is represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind ("NFB") by Labarre Law Offices, P.C., in Denver, CO, and by Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, in Baltimore, MD. The Plaintiff is further represented by Disability Rights Advocates ("DRA"), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, based in Berkeley, California.  

The NCBE provides standardized examinations for the testing of applicants for admission to the practice of law. Two of the tests it controls, the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) are required for admission to the bar by most states including California. The California Bar examination has three sections, one of which is the MBE, a national multiple-choice section.  Although all parts of the exam are administered by the California State Bar, the NCBE controls the type of accommodations each state can offer test takers with disabilities for the MBE portion of the bar exam.

The NCBE has also denied Plaintiff certain of the requested accommodations on the MPRE exam. This is a separate multiple choice exam that bar applicants must pass to be admitted to practice.  

Stephanie Enyart is a law school graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law who is legally blind and requires accommodations to take the California Bar exam, including the MBE, and MPRE. She has requested to take the exams on a laptop computer equipped with screen reading (JAWS) and screen magnification (ZoomText) software, programs she relies upon for reading. Ms. Enyart has relied on this combination of assistive technology as an accommodation on her exams throughout law school and in her current work as a law clerk at DRA, on issues concerning people with disabilities who are homeless.  

The NCBE has refused to allow Ms. Enyart the reasonable accommodations at issue for the MBE and MPRE on several occasions during the past years.  In response to the lawsuit, the NCBE has indicated that it will continue to deny Ms. Enyart her requested accommodations.  Instead, the NCBE has offered alternative accommodations that are not suited to Ms. Enyart's disability and are not effective. The NCBE's denials of accommodations prevent Ms. Enyart from obtaining admission to the bar, impeding her career.  

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), supporting the lawsuit, said, "Too often law students who are blind or have low vision have to prolong their prospects for licensing while they fight to get the same accommodations they've had throughout their educational history. Those that opt to settle for inadequate accommodations usually struggle to pass or sometimes do not pass at all. Those who control admission to the practice of law must obey the law."  

The Plaintiff, Stephanie Enyart, said, "As a person who was born sighted and became visually impaired later in my teens and twenties, I have learned to rely on a combination of assistive technology for accommodation. This assistive technology is not cutting edge; it has been around for more than a decade. The NCBE offered to provide different forms of accommodation that are simply not effective for my disability. The NCBE should recognize that there is diversity within disability and stop applying a one-size-fits-all model for accommodations. In this technological age, people who are blind and visually impaired have the opportunity to utilize various types of assistive technology to be competitive students in law school and to lead independent lives."

Scott LaBarre, one of Ms. Enyart's attorneys who is himself blind, commented:  "The law requires that NCBE provide the accommodation that best insures Ms. Enyart's ability to take the exam and the evidence gathered thus far in the case suggests that NCBE has not met this legal requirement.  We look forward to a swift and positive ruling from Judge Breyer in this crucial case affecting the rights of the blind and disabled."  

SOURCE National Federation of the Blind