Posts Tagged ‘access’

COAT Gives Thanks for Accessible Tech

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

For those in the D.C. area, on November 30th, the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) are hosting an event to celebrate the passage and enactment of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.  See below for more details if you’re interested in attending….

Giving Thanks for Accessible Technology

Tuesday, November 30, 2010. 4-6 p.m.

Cannon Caucus Room

House Office Building, Capitol Hill

Speakers include Representative Ed Markey and Senator Mark Pryor

Emceed by The Honorable Tony Coehlo, Chairman, AAPD Board of Directors

Sponsored by the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT)

and coordinated by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

RSVP by Nov. 24 to: or (202) 521-4316

E-Textbook Rentals Offered to Students by STEPP

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The U.S. DOE has awarded CourseSmart, Alternative Media Access Center and AccessText Network a grant of $1.1 million to support the STudent E-rent Pilot Project (STEPP), an eTextbook rental program aimed at improving low-cost access to higher education eTextbooks for all students, including those with print-related disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia.

If you use e-textbooks and are a member of the disability community, please see the press release below for information about how you can take advantage of this program.

Project Director: Christopher Lee, Enterprise Innovation Institute – Provost Office 75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314 Atlanta, Georgia 30308 E-mail: Telephone: 404-894-7655

Summary: The Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC) in partnership with CourseSmart and the AccessText Network (ATN) have come together to request funding in support of an innovative, e-textbook rental program entitled the STudent E-rent Pilot Project (STEPP). While STEPP is designed to meet the textbook rental needs of any postsecondary student, the program is unique in that its textbook offerings are specially modified for accessibility, and comply with Section 504 requirements under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In brief, STEPP leverages the expertise of AMAC, one of the nation’s leaders in producing accessible educational text, with the established distribution network of CourseSmart, the nation’s number one electronic textbook rental service, and the reach of ATN, the nation’s only ―one-stop shop‖ for disability service providers with a need for alternative format text files. For the first time, students with disabilities will enjoy the benefits of significant cost savings inherent in a textbook rental program, as STEPP provides universally accessible e-textbook files for top titles.


The goals of the STEPP initiative are as follows: (1) To save students an average of 50 percent off the retail cost for purchasing textbooks; (2) To provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in textbook rental programs and experience cost savings; (3) To develop and demonstrate a viable business model for rendering e-textbooks for rent, which are universally accessible to all; (4) To create awareness of the availability of universally accessible e-textbooks for rent; and (5) To increase knowledge and awareness amongst all players in the marketplace of the need for and the profitability of providing universally accessible e-textbooks.

Interview with Amelia Wallrich

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Earlier this week, Greg Oguss, NALSWD’s Chief Information Officer, interviewed Amelia Wallrich, a University of Illinois student who is having trouble getting LSAT accommodations from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). Recently, Amelia appeared on the PBS Newshour to discuss disability rights. In the process, she has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for the cause of fair access for people with disabilities. Here’s her conversation with NALSWD:

Greg:  Amelia, I know you’re planning on going to law school but have faced a struggle getting LSAC to grant you the accommodations that you requested for the LSAT. Can you share some of the specifics with us? What have you asked for and what has their response been?

Amelia: I started the process towards the end of January for the February LSAT. It turns out I was past the deadline so I shifted everything for the June LSAT, which was better because I hadn’t realized just how long it would take.  For the June LSAT, I requested double extended time for all portions of the exams. I have limited movement in my fingers, wrists, elbows, etc. so I write much more slowly.  The extended time has been the accommodation I have always used to (for lack of a better word) “compensate” on standardized tests. I submitted IEPs, ACT/ AP accommodations, doctor’s notes, basically everything short of a blood test lol, stating this was the best accommodation for me. Instead, LSAC approved me for a scribe, 15 extra minutes for diagramming and double time on the writing section. I have never used a scribe for any type of testing and really had no idea how I would do, or if it would enhance my disability on the LSAT instead of mitigating it. I wrote them several emails but only received one line answers in response. In the end, I decided to appeal the accommodations a little over a month before the June LSAT by submitting another doctor’s evaluation. A few days before the test they told me I was still going to have to use a scribe. Using the scribe in June was a complete disaster.  It was an added distraction to the test-taking process, made worse by the fact the scribe was completely unprofessional. The result was the lowest test score I had ever received (gauging by my practice tests). I have decided to re-take the LSAT in October and am appealing the decision again.  I am still requesting extended time with the caveat that it be double time if I have to use the regular Scantron or 50% extra time if I’m permitted to use the alternate answer sheet.

Greg: That sounds incredibly unfair. Speaking from personal experience, I know how uncommunicative LSAC can be when you’re trying to meet their demands with respect to requesting accommodations. It seems like schools are much more responsive, in general, than LSAC or the Bar.

Amelia:  Yeah, I totally agree.  That’s been the biggest frustration.  The fact that no one will ever talk to me, and the lack of transparency in general.  I’m trying extremely hard not to have to take it with a scribe again. Ideally, they will see the light and approve my appeal and just give me the extended time.  I am planning for the worst case scenario though, and I may decide just to forgo the scribe.  I am not sure if I am allowed to pick which approved accommodations I can use. If I forgo the scribe, does that mean I have to also forgo the extended time on the writing section?  But I am really opposed to having to use the scribe again.  It made me do so much worse.

Greg:  That’s a really interesting point. It seems like it can be very limiting having to abide only by their decision responding to specific accommodations you ask for vs. being able to choose between several options, which seems more equitable. On a related note, I saw your appearance on the PBS Newshour segment ons disability rights. I was wondering if this appearance might have a positive effect on your efforts to get LSAT accommodations…though it sounds like it hasn’t yet, at any rate. I was also wondering how the appearance came about?

Amelia:  Over the summer, through the American Association of People with Disabilities, I was placed as a Congressional intern in Senator Durbin’s office.  Andy Imparato (the head of AAPD and the other guy in the PBS interview) was asked by Judy Woodruff to talk about the anniversary of the ADA. Andy suggested it would be good idea to have a young person’s perspective on the anniversary — someone who had grown up with all its benefits. My name came up as someone from the internship class who could speak well on the topic.  It was a great opportunity.  I hadn’t expected her to bring up the LSAT. I had mentioned it in the pre-interview as an example of barriers we still face.  I was glad I had the chance to talk about it. I was trying hard to sound balanced about it and not too confrontational in the hopes someone from LSAC would see it  and recognize I’m a student just like everyone else and that I’m not trying to get an unfair advantage. I’m just trying to showcase my abilities like every able-bodied student taking the test.  But I’m not sure they even saw it, so who knows if it will really have any effect on their process. The point of bringing up the LSAT in the interview was not to point out the LSAC people as “bad guys” or horrible able-ists. I really just wanted them to know there is a serious problem with their accommodations process that they should work with the disability community to resolve. I genuinely believe they have the intention of giving students with disabilities fair access. Their attempts right now are just completely ineffective.

Greg:  For what it’s worth, you did come across as very balanced as opposed to…ideological, I guess. I agree that LSAC probably has good intentions, though there’s a real disconnect nonetheless. Switching topics slightly, what was it like interning for Senator Durbin in DC? Could you say something about the attitude of the people you worked with toward accommodations and/or people with disabilities?

Amelia:  It was a great experience.  I learned more in DC than I ever could have learned in a classroom. The staff was great.  They’ve had people with disabilities working in Senator Durbin’s offices before so I never felt out of place because of my disability.  They made sure I had all necessary accommodations and were very welcoming and accepting of the disability community in general.

Greg: That is great to hear. I have to ask you another question — probably the question that law students get sick of more than any other — but I have to ask it nonetheless — what kind of law are you interested in practicing? And what made you interested in law?

Amelia: As cliched as it sounds, law school and being a lawyer have always been in my plans.  I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life.  Even when I’ve thought about different ideal jobs, it always comes back to needing a law degree to get them.  In terms of type of law, my typical answer has been international disability rights law.  But I’ve been re-evaluating that a lot since this summer. I want to advocate for the disability community, but several community leaders I met this summer explained you do not have to be in the disability rights field to be an advocate for the disability community.  Their advice was to pick what you love and be really successful and you’ll help the disability community in that way. Don’t narrow yourself.  So I’m trying to take that advice to heart, keep my options open, and not make a final decision until I’ve learned about a few other areas of law as well.

Greg: That’s good advice. Law students are notorious for always wanting to “keep their options open,” but probably for good reason. I have one final question. Will you help NALSWD with advocacy efforts once you’re in law school? You’re an amazing spokesperson!

Amelia:  Definitely!!  I’ve been keeping up with the blog, seems like a great organization.  I had the chance to hang out a bit with Beth Kolbe this summer in DC (editor’s note: NALSWD’s current Vice President and a 2L at Stanford Law). She encouraged me to get involved once I’m in law school…

Greg: Good, because we’re looking forward to having you involved! I really hope LSAC decides to give you a fair chance on the LSAT. I know you would make a great law student and a great lawyer. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today and good luck!

Amelia:  Thank you for taking the time! I really appreciate it.

Report from the NCD Summit 2010

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Below is a report from the National Council on Disability Summit 2010 by NALSWD member Kathryn Carroll and Anmol Bhatia, a graduate student at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, both of whom attended the summit.

Report from the NCD Summit 2010

By Anmol Bhatia and Kathryn Carroll

From July 25-28, 450 consumers with disabilities, disability community stakeholders and representatives from Congress and federal agencies gathered in Washington to provide recommendations for disability policy for the next decade and beyond. The event was coordinated by the National Council on Disability (NCD), a federal agency composed of fifteen members who provide advice to the President, Congress and executive branch agencies with the task of promoting “policies, programs, practices and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities” (NCD website).

The theme of the Summit, “Living, Learning and Earning,” was designed to launch a national dialogue on disability policies and programs in the 21st century. The summit also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A few lucky participants were able to visit the White House to witness President Obama sign an executive order stating that the United States Federal Government will be a model employer in hiring people with disabilities. Anmol was one of the lucky few; “It was really exciting to be at the South Lawn, the very place where the ADA was signed into law 20 years earlier.”

At the summit, participants engaged in dialogue and roundtable discussions to identify emerging opportunities to improve the coordination of disability policies, programs, and advocacy efforts as well as to energize collaborative networks to guide future disability policy. According to Jonathan Young, the Chairman of the NCD, the summit theme “emerged from my resolute belief that our greatest challenge in disability policy involves coordination across many silos – congressional committees of jurisdiction; federal agencies; and all levels of government. Rather than discuss separate policy ‘tracks’ as NCD has done in the past [housing, telecommunications, transportation, education, etc.], I am committed to integrating the silos to meet the real-life challenges of living, learning, and earning.”

Beneath the surface of these challenges, attitudinal change towards disability is taking place, and using the right language is crucial. One speaker explained it this way, quoting Mark Twain; “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Another recurring theme was that people need to be able to govern their own lives and make their own choices. On this subject, Mazen Basrawi, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, said “We need to give people the maximum choice possible so they can reach their maximum dream possible.”

As participants in the Summit, we found the discussion interesting and the atmosphere open to suggestions from all participants. The eager participation of stakeholders in the plenary sessions was very encouraging. At one instance, a prominent Conservative rabbi asked the National Council for guidance on how to prepare religious centers for the possibility of people with disabilities seeking refuge there during disasters. Making emergencies preparedness cognizant of people with disabilities is policy goal for the future as well, and community participation is welcomed by the Council. Kathryn, as a new law student, felt that her input might not be regarded as important at the lunch roundtable. Nevertheless, when she was invited to share her opinions about the greatest challenges facing young people with disabilities, she found her co-participants taking notes. As a person who has traveled abroad several times, Kathryn also appreciated the speech given by Susan Sygall, the CEO of Mobility International USA, an organization that arranges international exchanges for disabled students and professionals. Anmol feels that the opportunities MIUSA is providing will give Americans an appreciation for how fortunate people in the United States really are. “Living in India, I have witnessed the challenges a blind person faces… it is really beneficial for Americans to experience the way life is for disabled individuals outside the United States.”

The goal of NCD was to continue a national dialogue started at the summit. To this end, the NCD has launched a Facebook page ( which will allow those who were not able to participate to provide input on the same questions posed to the participants and continue the dialogue. According to Mr. Young, “this Summit is an important milestone, but only one step in a process that will continue after the summit.” As participants of the summit, we encourage you to take advantage of the Facebook page and provide your personal input. The event was an excellent start for dialogue on an important topic, but the work continues and much more must be done.

National Council on Disability Website:

Connecticut Adopts New Rules for Questioning Bar Applicants with Mental Disabilties

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

This June, Connecticut, known for its invasive approach to questioning candidates for bar admission about their mental disabilities, adopted new rules in attempt to narrow the scope of permitted inquiries in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  See article below from the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Joe Hodnicki on Legal Publishers Failing to Provide Access

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Joe Hodnicki is the director of the Butler County Law Library in Ohio. He’s also a friend of NALSWD who’s advocating for legal publishers to do a much better job providing accessible research tools for the disability community. If you’re interested, check out his thoughts on the subject and/or leave a comment on his post.