Here in Los Angeles, a woman who is legally blind is suing the National Conference of Bar Examiners because she believes they are unfairly restricting her from using necessary equipment to take the licensing test. The woman, Stephanie Enyart says that the agency needs to catch up with better, currently available options for its standardized testing.
When she entered law school, the Law School Admissions Test was required. UCLA, the school she was testing into, hired a human reader to read the test questions for her. The problems happened on test day. She says that the man hired was so sick that he continued to leave to get tea and blew his nose. She had a hard time understanding him through his nasally congestion, too. However, she passed the test and entered law school. She believes her score suffered because she was denied the use of a computer software program that would magnify the text of the test and convert it to speech heard through an ear bud.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners has denied her request to use a computer program to take a portion of the California bar exam that it controls. Rather, it says she must use a human reader instead.
Due to this, she has sued the national conference. She claims that the conference violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act that prohibit discrimination.
Enyart says, as reported by the LA Times, “To use a human reader or the visual accommodations they have offered just simply doesn’t meet my disability needs. It would be like trying to run a race in someone else’s shoes.”
Mr. Enyart is not the only person who wants the national conference to catch up. A man named Michael Witwer, who will graduate from Catholic University of American’s law school this year took another required test, the Multistate Professionals Responsibility Exam recently and passed though with a score he believes was reduced because he was unable to use computer programs during the test. Rather, a human reader was imposed by the administrator of the test.
He says that the reader commented on big words in the questions and struggled with pronunciation including struggling with the word constitutional.
However, there is some improvement seen within the industry. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has allowed three blind test takers to take the test in July using a pilot program that allows software to read the text aloud to the user. This was reported through Larry Paradis, an attorney who is part of the firm representing Enyart in her lawsuit. The pilot’s internal report says that the pilot program has been successful. However, the program is unable to be used at this point, and will not be available in February when Enyart will take her test.
There are about 500 blind or vision impaired lawyers in practice in the United States. Most use equipment similar to what Enyart wants to use within their day-to-day practices.