National Federation of the Blind Supports Lawsuit Against National Conference of Bar Examiners
Blind Plaintiff Seeks Appropriate Accommodations to Take Professional Exam
Burlington, Vermont (July 5, 2011): Deanna Jones, a blind student at Vermont Law School and resident of Middlesex for the past eighteen years, has filed a complaint in federal court against the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and ACT, Inc. for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ms. Jones is registered to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is part of the requirements for obtaining a law license in Vermont. The complaint was filed because the NCBE and ACT, Inc. refuse to make the MPRE accessible to Ms. Jones, who is blind and has a learning disability.
The plaintiff asked to take the MPRE on a computer equipped with screen access software, which converts what is on the screen into a format accessible to disabled examinees. This software allows Ms. Jones to hear text read aloud while it is simultaneously magnified and highlighted. Use of this software is the only reading method Ms. Jones has found to be effective in her academic career. Before this technology existed, in 1986, Ms. Jones left Kutztown University after only one year of study because she believed her then undiagnosed learning disability, coupled with her blindness, made reading and retaining printed text too difficult to keep up with an academic program. However, equipped with more recent advances in screen access software, Ms. Jones has been able to achieve success in higher education. Using the software is the only way she can independently read and comprehend the text of the complex multiple-choice questions presented on the MPRE.
NCBE and its contractor, ACT, Inc., refuse to allow Ms. Jones to use her software to take the examination.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “As we have said before, those who control admission to the practice of law must themselves obey the law. It is unconscionable that NCBE would deny graduates the accommodations that they need to compete on an equal playing field with their sighted peers. The NCBE’s position of offering a limited menu of accommodations does not take into account advances in technology and the individual needs of test candidates who are blind and, as in this case, have other disabilities. We will work tirelessly to ensure that all blind people are given their lawful right to take professional examinations in the manner that best suits their individual needs and continue with their careers.”
The plaintiff is represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind by Emily Joselson and Michele Patton of the Middlebury firm Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP; Daniel Goldstein, Timothy Elder, and Trevor Coe of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy LLP; and Scott LaBarre of the Denver firm LaBarre Law Offices.