[A2k] 2 Press stories about Blind Law School grads v. Bar exam

Manon Anne Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Mon Jun 7 09:51:33 PDT 2010

By Scott Broom
sbroom at wusa9.com


BALTIMORE (AP) -- Three blind law students are suing over which software
they are allowed to use while taking the bar exam.

Attorney Daniel F. Goldstein says the accommodations offered by the
National Conference of Bar Examiners are "wildly inferior" to the
programs used by plaintiffs Timothy Elder, Anne Blackfield and Michael
Witver, who still has some sight.

The Maryland State Board of Law Examiners allowed them to use their
preferred software for the state-law sections but deferred to the
Wisconsin-based national governing body for the Multistate Bar
Examination. The three, who graduated this spring, plan to take the bar
exam in July.

The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court under the Americans
with Disabilities Act. The three lost sight due to degenerative disease
and are not proficient at Braille. 

and story number 2:


Blind law school grads v. bar exam

Posted: 8:20 pm Wed, June 2, 2010
By Brendan Kearney
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

Three blind law school graduates filed suit against the National
Conference of Bar Examiners Wednesday after it denied their requests to
use screen-access software to take the Multistate Bar Examination in

The Maryland State Board of Law Examiners granted the plaintiffs’
requests to use the software for the state-law sections of the test but
deferred to the Wisconsin-based national governing body on the 200-item,
six-hour multiple choice MBE.

The NCBE rejected the request two weeks ago, according to the lawsuit
filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act in U.S. District Court
in Baltimore.

The plaintiffs, each of whom graduated this spring, were once sighted
but are now legally blind due to degenerative disease and are not
proficient at Braille. They claim that banning their preferred computer
programs, which they used throughout law school, is discrimination that
will put them at a competitive disadvantage during the July 27-28 bar
exam and threaten their career prospects.

Daniel F. Goldstein, one of their lawyers, said the accommodations the
NCBE has offered, which range from a human reader to audio CDs, are
“wildly inferior” to using the JAWS program plaintiffs Timothy Elder and
Anne Blackfield use and the ZoomText program used by Michael Witver, who
still has some sight.

The alternative accommodations are “either ones my clients can’t use or
are inherently inferior to what they want to use,” Goldstein said
Tuesday, “and any time that you don’t get to use your ordinary reading
method, the one that you’ve become proficient at … you’re going to have
to focus on the act of reading rather than the content.”

“What we’re asking for puts our clients on an equal basis with sighted
readers,” said Goldstein, whose law firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP,
will employ Elder as a fellow this fall. The firm is representing the
students with the backing of the Baltimore-based National Federation of
the Blind and in conjunction with two other firms, Disability Rights
Advocates of Berkley, Calif., and LaBarre Law Offices of Denver.

Robert A. Burgoyne, who represents the NCBE, hadn’t yet read the lawsuit
but said the NCBE believes “the Maryland board has offered to administer
the exam in an accessible format.”

“It’s a paper-and-pencil examination that we do not administer in a
computer-based form, and there are cost, security and administrative
issues that would arise from those requested accommodations,” said
Burgoyne, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Fulbright &
Jaworski LLP.

Two of many problems with such a stance, Goldstein says, are the
outdated beliefs that paper is inherently more secure than electronic
copies and that Braille is still the primary mode of reading for blind
people. Whereas half of blind people read Braille in the 1940s, only 15
percent do now, Goldstein said.

JAWS, short for Job Access with Speech, reads text aloud while providing
audio cues that allow a blind person to navigate and comprehend a
document at the same speed as a sighted person. Goldstein has JAWS
installed on computers at his firm and said the speed at which blind
clients listen to the text is incomprehensible to most seeing people.

“I am not able to take in the information they’re getting orally any
more than they can take in the information that I’m looking at,” he

ZoomText magnifies letters and images on the screen and has a
text-to-speech function.

Blackfield, a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law;
Elder, a graduate of the University of California Hastings College of
Law; and Witver, a graduate of the Catholic University of America
Columbus School of Law, filed requests for accommodations on April 28,
according to the suit. Barbara Gavin, director of character and fitness
at the state board, wrote to each of them on May 6, giving them the
partial good news about the screen access programs, but the NCBE denial
came on May 18.

Goldstein won a preliminary injunction against the NCBE earlier this
year that allowed a blind client to take the California bar in February.
(The client failed, however, so Goldstein will fly to the West Coast
make his case again at a hearing on Friday.)

If blind law students are not successful in such challenges, Goldstein
said, “well, they have a choice.”

“They can try to take it with a reader. And sometimes they get lucky and
they pass,” he said, pausing. “And sometimes they don’t pass … and they
don’t become members of the bar.”

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