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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge: Blind Grad Can Use Computer for Bar Exam

(CN) - A blind law school graduate can use a computer during the bar exam, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ordered the National Conference of Bar Examiners to provide the test-taker with a computer equipped with special screen-reading software.

Stephanie Enyart, who has macular degeneration and retinal dystrophy, said she couldn't take the bar exam without the aid of JAWS and ZoomText, which allow her to read text on a computer screen.

She said she can't use other assistance programs, such as CCTV, "without suffering nausea and eye fatigue" after about five minutes.

The NCBE agreed that Enyart was entitled to a reasonable accommodation, but declined to let her use the preferred computer programs.

It offered her nearly every other option, however, including CCTV, a human reader, an audio CD with pre-recorded test questions, extended exam time, a private room, a five-minute break every hour, a scribe to fill in the answers, use of her lamp, a large-print digital clock, sunglasses, a yoga mat and migraine medication.

But Enyart insisted the accommodations wouldn't work as well as JAWS and ZoomText.

NCBE remained firm, explaining that it couldn't use those programs because it needed to safeguard the confidentiality of multiple-choice questions. It feared that Enyart would surreptitiously record the test questions, some of which are reused on both the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and the Multistate Bar Exam.

Judge Breyer said the security concern "is minimized" by ordering NCBE to use its own computer, which it will keep after Enyart takes the test.

"Because there is no reason to believe that Enyart herself poses a security threat, keeping the computer in NCBE possession adequately addresses its security issues."

The judge granted Enyart's motion for a preliminary injunction.

He sidestepped a dispute over whether to apply a traditional or more lenient "reasonable accommodation" standard, saying Enyart "has established her likelihood of success under either standard."

"As to the remaining factors -- balance of hardships, irreparable harm, and the interest of the public in the issue -- all three factors lean in favor of Plaintiff," Breyer concluded.

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