[nfbmi-talk] it's about time big victory!
joe harcz Comcast
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Wed Jan 5 06:44:59 CST 2011
Court OKs blind student's software for bar exam
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
A blind Bay Area law graduate was entitled to use computer-assisted reading devices that gave her the best chance of passing the California bar exam, a
federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a broad interpretation of disability laws.
The decision by the
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
gives Stephanie Enyart another chance to use the computer equipment when she takes the exam for the third time next month.
The court also upheld
U.S. Justice Department
regulations that require all companies administering licensing tests - for lawyers, doctors, and other professions and occupations - to provide accommodations
that best allow the disabled to demonstrate their skill and knowledge.
Those rules help to ensure that "exam results accurately reflect attitude rather than disabilities," Judge Barry Silverman said in the 3-0 ruling. It was
the nation's first court decision to address the regulations, enacted in 1992.
Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, a lawyer for Enyart, said the ruling gives the disabled "an equal opportunity to demonstrate their
But a lawyer for the nonprofit National Conference of Bar Examiners, which administers the California test, said the court had gone too far.
"A testing organization should not be put to the requirement of providing whatever the latest technology calls for," attorney Robert Burgoyne said. He said
the 1992 regulations could give some test-takers an unfair advantage and raise questions about the validity of licensing exams.
Enyart, who has worked as a law clerk at Disability Rights Advocates, suffers from macular degeneration and retinal dystrophy and was declared legally blind
at 15. At
UCLA Law School,
where she graduated in 2009, she took tests on a laptop with software that magnified the text and read the words into earbuds.
The bar exam company refused to let her use those devices, saying they might give hackers access to the test questions. The company said its usual aides
for the visually impaired - an enlarged screen, a reader and twice the usual three-day testing period - satisfied the law's requirement of reasonable accommodations
for the disabled.
Enyart said that those arrangements would cause her severe discomfort and that she needed the computer setup to have a fair chance of passing.
District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco ordered the company to accommodate her in January 2010 and said it could supply its own computer for security.
Enyart failed the exam in February and July 2010, passing only a separate test on legal ethics. The testing company sought to remove the computer equipment,
saying Enyart could remain involved in legal work without becoming a lawyer, but the court said she was entitled to an "opportunity to pursue her chosen
E-mail Bob Egelko at
begelko at sfchronicle.com.
This article appeared on page C - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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