Blind Law Grads Sue Over Denied Use of Screen-Access Software on Multistate Bar Exam
Posted Jun 2, 2010 8:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
All through law school, three new graduates seeking to become members of the Maryland bar used specialized software to help them read text on their computer screens.
But now they are being told that they can't use the software when they take the Multistate Bar Examination in Maryland next month, although Maryland bar authorities have OK'd their doing so on the state-law portion of the test.
“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,” partner Robert Burgoyne of Fulbright & Jaworski tells the Daily Record.
He represents the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which administers the Multistate exam throughout the country. It was sued today in federal court in Baltimore by the three blind graduates, who say the NCBE's refusal to accommodate their request to use screen-reading software violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Attorney Daniel Goldstein of Brown Goldstein & Levy represents the plaintiffs, along with other counsel. He says the alternative accommodations offered by the NCBE, such as audio CDs and human readers, are "wildly inferior" to the software the three graduates routinely and skillfully use, the article reports.
The plaintiffs are Anne Blackfield, a University of Maryland School of Law graduate, Timothy Elder, an alumnus of the University of California Hastings College of Law; and Michael Witver, a graduate of Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.
Witver, who still retains some sight, uses a ZoomText program that magnifies the text on his screen. Blackfield and Elder rely on a Job Access with Speech program known as JAWS. It reads text aloud and offers audio cues to help a blind person navigate a computer screen.
Goldstein will be in court on Friday representing another blind law graduate, Stephanie Enyart, in a bar exam case that has previously been featured in ABAJournal.com posts:
Updated at 8:45 p.m. to include prior Enyart coverage.