Law Schools Discriminate Against Blind Applicants
National Federation of the Blind Files Suit Against Four California Law Schools
San Francisco, California (June 9, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, and three blind students who have applied or are considering applying to law school in California—Deepa Goraya, Bruce J. Sexton, and Claire Stanley—filed an amended lawsuit yesterday against the Law School Admissions Council and four California law schools for violating provisions of the California Disabled Persons Act, the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit was filed because the law schools require or encourage applicants to use a centralized Internet-based application process provided by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) through its Web site (www.lsac.org) that is inaccessible to blind law school applicants. Blind students must seek sighted assistance to use the LSAC system. Furthermore, blind law school applicants cannot perform other tasks on the LSAC Web site, such as downloading official study materials for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) that is required by almost all U.S. law schools. The four law schools are: University of California Hastings College of the Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Whittier Law School, and Chapman University School of Law.
Blind people access Web sites on computers equipped with screen access software that converts what is on the screen into synthesized speech or Braille. The keyboard is used instead of a mouse to navigate the Web site and click on selected links or buttons. If a Web site is improperly coded, however, blind computer users cannot access or interact with the site. The law school applications available on lsac.org are completely inaccessible to screen readers, requiring blind users to resort to sighted assistance in order to complete their law school applications. In addition, the practice tests and preparation materials for the LSAT are not available in an electronic format that is accessible to blind computer users.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The National Federation of the Blind demands that those who control admission to the practice of law obey the law. For too long, blind people have experienced barriers to entering the legal profession, despite a long history of success and distinguished service by blind attorneys and judges. The National Federation of the Blind will not sit quietly while the LSAC willfully refuses to provide the same services to blind people seeking admission to law school that it does to the sighted. The LSAC is engaging in blatant discrimination against the blind and we will not stand for it. Since all of the schools named in our amended complaint either require or strongly encourage applicants to use the inaccessible LSAC application system, they too are actively discriminating against blind applicants and we will ask the courts to hold them responsible for doing so.”
The National Federation of the Blind and Ms. Goraya originally filed suit against the LSAC for its inaccessible Web site in February of 2009. The complaint filed yesterday amends that action. The National Federation of the Blind recently filed complaints with the United States Department of Justice against nine other law schools across the United States that use the LSAC online application system. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is investigating those complaints.
Plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein and Mehgan Sidhu of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; Laurence W. Paradis, Anna Levine, and Karla Gilbride of the Berkley firm Disability Rights Advocates; and Scott C. LaBarre of the Denver firm LaBarre Law Offices.