Federal Judge Issues Permanent Legal Resolution for Blind Law School Graduate Who Paved the Way for Blind Test Takers
Berkeley, California (October 26, 2011): On Monday, October 24, the Honorable Judge Charles R. Breyer ended a two-year legal battle between a blind law school graduate and a national testing corporation over the graduate’s right to use a computer equipped with assistive technology to take the California Bar Exam. Granting Stephanie Enyart’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Breyer found that Ms. Enyart is entitled to take the bar exam on a computer equipped with text-to-speech screen reading and visual screen magnification software, as the method that will best ensure that she is tested on her aptitude rather than her disability.
Stephanie Enyart, who graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2009 and first sought to take the bar exam that same year, was forced into court by the refusal of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to allow her to take the bar exam using her primary reading method, a computer equipped with screen reading and screen magnifying software. Ms. Enyart, who became blind in her early adulthood as a result of macular degeneration, has relied on screen reading and screen magnifying technology to read since college, through law school, and in her professional career.
Although Ms. Enyart won a preliminary injunction in early 2010, ordering NCBE to provide her requested accommodations, the case has remained in court for almost two years, as NCBE unsuccessfully challenged the district court’s preliminary injunction order first to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and then to the United States Supreme Court. NCBE argued that it fulfilled its legal obligations to Ms. Enyart by offering accommodations such as Braille or a human reader—notwithstanding evidence that these alternatives do not work well for Ms. Enyart.
The courts resoundingly rejected that argument, holding that licensing examinations must be administered to exam takers with sensory impairments in a manner that “best ensures” that they are tested on what the examination purports to measure, rather than on the exam takers’ impairments.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Although blind people have practiced law successfully throughout history, we still face unreasonable and unwarranted barriers to entering and achieving success in the profession. Judge Breyer’s decision is a tremendous step forward in granting blind Americans seeking to enter the practice of law full and equal access to the process of acquiring their credentials. We applaud this common-sense ruling and expect full compliance going forward from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.”
Anna Levine of Disability Rights Advocates, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said, “Judge Breyer’s decision vindicates Stephanie Enyart’s request to take the bar exam on a computer, so that she can be tested on what other examinees are tested on, rather than on how well she uses an unfamiliar reading method. We only wish that NCBE had not fought this simple, justified request so aggressively over the past two years.”
The suit was filed on November 3, 2009, and charged that the NCBE violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act by denying accommodations on the Multistate Bar Examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, two components of the California Bar Exam controlled by NCBE. The State Bar granted Ms. Enyart’s request to use a computer on the essay portions of the bar exam, but was unable to grant her request on the portions controlled by NCBE.
Ms. Enyart was represented with the support of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) by Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, in Baltimore, Maryland, and the LaBarre Law Offices, P.C., in Denver, Colorado. The plaintiff was further represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, with offices in Berkeley, California, and New York City.