Posts Tagged ‘accommodations’

Planning on Taking the Bar with Screen-Access Software?

Friday, December 31st, 2010

If so, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) wants to hear from you…

Anyone who anticipates asking to take the bar, including the multistate bar exam and/or the multistate professional responsibility exam, with screen access software on or after July 2011 (that is, 1L’s and 2L’s as well as 3L’s), please contact NFB’s Chris Danielsen (). The NFB is contemplating using associational standing to seek national relief to require the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to allow applicants to use their primary reading method in taking the examinations the NCBE controls.  This would not require that you be plaintiffs, but would support the ability to get a national ruling. Even if you are not sure which bar you intend to take, as long as the possibilities include one of the 53 jurisdictions that require the multistate bar exam, that should be sufficient.

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.

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.

Ruling in Maryland Bar Accommodations Lawsuit

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

From a well-informed source, NALSWD has just learned of a disappointing outcome in the case of three blind law school graduates sitting for the bar in Maryland who sued the National Conference of Board Examiners (NCBE) in a Baltimore federal court over accommodations on the multi-state portion of the bar exam. The plaintiffs had been denied the use of screen access software by the NCBE and were suing for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (read more about the case in the AmLaw Daily and on our blog The three blind students were supported by the Department of Justice, who filed an amicus brief on their behalf.

While the verdict has not been widely reported yet, apparently the judge just denied the preliminary injunction of the blind students despite the Department of Justice’s efforts, having been swayed by the NCBE’s argument that their standard and, in this case, technologically out-of-date accommodations satisfied the statute. Perhaps most disappointing was the fact that judge expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs, saying he “hoped” that the NCBE would provide the requested screen-reader accommodations despite his ruling, which seems highly unlikely, to say the least.

If we learn more details, we will provide updates on this regrettable ruling.

Blind Students Sue NCBE for Bar Accommodations

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Three blind students sitting for the bar in Maryland, Timothy Elder, Anne Blackfield, and Michael Witver, are suing the NCBE in a Baltimore Federal court after being told they cannot use the specialized software provided for them during law school exams on the multi-state portion of the bar exam.  This case is strikingly similar to a lawsuit brought by our former president (and tireless NALSWD supporter!) Stephanie Enyart, who sued the NCBE in California and won a preliminary injunction granting her accommodations.

For more info about the Maryland case:

For more info about Stephanie’s case:

Best of luck in your fight, Tim, Anne and Michael, from all of us at NALSWD! And best of luck to Stephanie, who is sitting for the bar in July!