Federal Judge Orders the National Conference of Bar Examiners to Provide Individualized Testing Accommodations to Blind Law School Graduate
San Francisco, California (February 5, 2010): A federal court has ruled that the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will cause a blind law school graduate irreparable harm unless it provides her the technology-based testing accommodations she needs to take two exams required to become a member of the State Bar of California. The court issued its ruling in an order granting the law school graduate’s motion for preliminary injunction on Thursday, February 4, 2010. The court’s ruling allows the plaintiff, Stephanie Enyart, to take the February 2010 Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and March 2010 Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) on a laptop computer equipped with the assistive technology software Ms. Enyart relies upon for screen reading (JAWS) and screen magnification (ZoomText).
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind is extremely pleased with the ruling in this case. Law and equity simply do not permit the NCBE to dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for all bar candidates with disabilities. We hope that this ruling will cause the NCBE to think long and hard before it denies the requested accommodations of applicants to take its examinations.”
The plaintiff, Stephanie Enyart, said: “A little over a year ago I sent my first request for accommodations on the March 2009 MPRE, and tonight I can go to sleep knowing when and how I can effectively take the exams to fulfill my dreams.”
Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said: "I hope that our hard-fought victory here will send a message to testing organizations that they need to comply with the ADA and provide each individual test taker with a disability the accommodations that he or she needs to demonstrate his or her actual knowledge, skills, and abilities."
The suit was filed on November 3, 2009, due to the NCBE’s refusal, on multiple occasions during the past year, to allow Ms. Enyart to use the same technology on the MBE and MPRE that she has used on university and law school exams and in various jobs and internships. The suit charged that the NCBE violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act by denying accommodations on the MBE and the MPRE.
NCBE had argued that it fulfilled its legal obligations to Ms. Enyart by offering alternative accommodations, such as a human reader, notwithstanding evidence that these alternatives did not, in fact, accommodate Ms. Enyart’s disability. In rejecting NCBE’s argument, the court’s ruling paves the way for other individuals prevented from pursuing their professional dreams by high stakes testing providers who take a rigid approach to disability accommodations.
The plaintiff is represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind by LaBarre Law Offices, P.C., in Denver, Colorado, and by Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, in Baltimore, Maryland. The plaintiff is further represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, based in Berkeley, California.