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Federal Judge Will Hear Motion in California Bar Exam Accommodation Case
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Today United States District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer will hear a motion on whether a blind law school graduate can receive the accommodations she needs to take the February 2010 California Bar Examination. On November 3, 2009 Stephanie Enyart filed a suit alleging that The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) discriminates against blind and low vision bar applicants. The suit states that the NCBE is violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and California’s civil rights law by denying accommodations on the Multistate Bar Exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

Enyart is represented with support from the National Federation of the Blind by Labarre Law Offices in Denver and by Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP in Baltimore. Enyart is also represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a non profit law center specializing in civil rights cases involving disabled individuals.

The NCBE controls two exams (the Multistate Bar Exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam) that future lawyers must take in order to gain admission to the bar in several states including California. The California Bar examination has three sections, one of which is the Multistate Bar Exam, consisting of a national multiple-choice section. Although every part of the exam is 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 exam.

  
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When Enyart initially applied for the bar exam, she received permission from the California Bar to use JAWS, a text reader that converts computer type to audio, and ZoomText, which magnifies text and displays it in white letters on a black background. The background reduces the pain of the extreme light sensitivity Enyart experiences (at age 15 she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a rare form of macular degeneration).

The NCBE informed Enyart that she could use JAWS, but not ZoomText because bringing her personal laptop into the exam room would create security issues. Her attorneys point out that the NCBE provided laptops with audio reader software for blind applicants in a successful pilot program last year yet refuses to provide a similar accommodation for Enyart. Enyart offered to pay $400 for the software she requires but the NCBE continued to deny her request. The continual denial of her requests prevented her from obtaining admission to the bar, and created significant hardship for her in her ability to pursue a legal career.

The 32 year old Enyart graduated from the UCLA School of Law in 2009, where she was enrolled in the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. She was an Editor-In-Chief of Recent Developments for the Women’s Law Journal. While a law student she co-chaired the steering committee that launched the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities and served as its first president. She was awarded the Paul G. Hearne award given by the American Association of People with Disabilities to emerging disability rights leaders. In college Enyart was a Mellon Fellow and graduated from Stanford University in 1999 with a B.A. in English and a secondary major in Feminist Studies. She currently works at Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley.

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There are about 500 visually impaired lawyers in practice in the United States, and many of them rely on the same technology Enyart herself uses.





 

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