Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Disabled California law grads claim bar exam isn’t ADA friendly

The graduates claim the state bar denies their requests for similar accommodations they received when taking exams in law school.

(CN) — A group of four disabled California law school graduates appealed to the U.S. Justice Department to step in and force the State Bar of California to provide them with appropriate accommodations when taking the bar exam.

In a complaint filed with the Justice Department on Thursday, the four grads accused the state bar of systemic disability-based discrimination and failure to accommodate test takers with disabilities.

“We are asking the Department of Justice to ensure that the State Bar of California complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act so that test takers can take the bar exam on a level playing field," Jinny Kim, managing attorney with Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley and one of the lawyers who filed the complaint on behalf of the graduates, said. "The state bar’s practices continue to exclude people with disabilities from the legal profession.”

The immediate purpose of the complaint is to get the Justice Department to investigate their allegations, Kim said in a telephone interview. The advocacy group receives many complaints about the state bar's failure to provide accommodations for disabled applicants to take the exam and the issue is systemic, she said.

Representatives of the state bar declined to comment on the allegations.

According to the graduates' complaint, the state bar refuses to grant or defer to prior accommodations the applicants received on similar exams, including in law school, such as permission to use voice recognition software for individuals whose disability prevents them from writing or typing by hand for extended periods of time.

Even when applicants support their requests with medical documentation, the state bar defers to its own consultants who employ "a stingy and skeptical review" and routinely second-guess the judgments from qualified professionals, according to the complaint. The bar's experts also demand extensive analysis of the applicants' disabilities, which is inconsistent with the Americans with Disability Act, the graduates claim.

“I feel outraged the state bar forced me to jump through so many hoops just to receive the accommodations to which I am entitled," Rosa Rico, one of the complainants, said in a statement. "Forcing me to take the exam without the accommodations I need was exhausting and unfair.”

According to the complaint, in 2022 Rico applied for 75% extra time, extended testing days, 5-minute stop-the-clock breaks every 30 minutes, a private room, testing in an alternative format, the use of voice recognition software, enlarged print, permission to circle answers in question booklet, and permission to stand and stretch during the bar exam.

She had been granted similar accommodations on the law school admission test, in law school, and on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, which is a prerequisite for taking the bar exam.

Although she submitted extensive documentation from medical professionals in support of her request, the state bar granted her only 33% extra time and denied all other accommodations, saying the report from her optometrist was speculative and concluding she could type using her hands notwithstanding the impact of her physical pain.

Rico failed to pass the July 2022 bar exam and had to apply again for the February 2023 exam. She renewed her request for accommodations, and this time was granted 50% extra time for each session, extended testing schedule and testing days for the essays portion of the exam, enlarged font, and some other accommodations. However, she was denied without explanation, the use of voice recognition software and an extended schedule for the multiple choice part of the exam.

She passed that time.

The graduates want the state bar to diversify the consultants who review the testing accommodation requests, defer to and grant accommodations the applicants have previously received on standardized tests and in law school, and give more weight to the assessments of treating and examining medical professionals and less to the bar’s consultants, when reviewing the test taker’s accommodation request.

Follow @edpettersson
Categories / Health, Law, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.