Court Rules in Favor of Visually-Impaired Grad

Photo: <b>The Disability Rights Advocates office</b> is where visually-impaired law school graduate Stephanie Enyart works. She will be able to use reading assistance software on the bar exam.
Skyler Reid/Staff
The Disability Rights Advocates office is where visually-impaired law school graduate Stephanie Enyart works. She will be able to use reading assistance software on the bar exam.

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A U.S. district court in San Francisco ruled Friday in favor of Stephanie Enyart, a visually-impaired law school graduate, allowing her to use special reading assistance software on the next California bar examination in late February.

Northern District of California Judge Charles Breyer granted a preliminary injunction directing the National Conference of Bar Examiners to make the portions of the test compatible with the software applications Enyart used for research and testing throughout her studies at the UCLA School of Law, according to Enyart.

"It is such a relief," Enyart said. "They've denied me three times for it ... The judge (had) the ability to grant me accommodations that are necessary for me to fulfill my dream."

Enyart, who currently works for Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, uses a combination of two kinds of software, ZoomText and JAWS, in order to read, said Lucy Greco, Access Technology Specialist at UC Berkeley.

"ZoomText is a screen magnification software (which) allows you to ... magnify certain sections of the screen (and) JAWS (is) a screen reader," Greco said.

According to Daniel Goldstein, lead council for Enyart, the defense for the conference claimed that putting the test on a laptop in order for the software assistance to be used compromised the secrecy of the examination questions.

He said that questions are reused by the conference for subsequent tests and leaked copies of the test would damage the test's future integrity.

According to Karla Gilbride, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, the conference has previously allowed others to use both JAWS and ZoomText on their exams.

"We were surprised that they fought it in this case when it is something they've done before without any negative consequences in terms of security," Gilbride said.

According to Goldstein, the lawyers for the conference also pointed to the possibility of "opening the floodgates" to requests from blind or visually-impaired bar exam applicants.

However, Goldstein said he was unsure of why this was a problem for the conference, but said it may have to do with the highly individualized requests visually-impaired bar applicants might make.

"You have to keep in mind, this is not a one-size-fits-all," he said. "If you are a very good braille reader, you're not going to want (the ZoomText or JAWS version of the exam), you're going to want a braille test, and if you've gone to law school with a human reader, that's what you're going to want."

He said there was no claim of undue burden from the conference saying they could not afford it.

The conference would not comment on the case, and the lead lawyer for the conference, Gregory Tenhoff, did not return phone calls as of press time.

In lieu of being able to offer ZoomText and JAWS, the conference attempted to offer a live reader, an audio CD and CCTV to administer the test, in which a print copy of the test is magnified though a video camera and displayed on a television, Enyart said.

However, she said that use of the CCTV assistance made her nauseous after about five minutes of use.

"I have to have it magnified so large," she said. "If I move the machine around, back and forth on the tray, it's like when you zoom in with a video camera on something really far away and then you yank your head right to left, back and forth rapidly."

According to Goldstein, the judge agreed this put Enyart at an unfair disadvantage.

Enyart suffers from a form of macular degeneration called Stargardt's disease, which blots out the center of the field of vision.

"You know when you look at the sun and then look away?" she said. "There's that splotch of color that's always flashing for a few seconds after you look directly at the sun. It's like that all the time."

Enyart said she was looking forward to studying like all the other exam applicants.

"Eat, sleep, pray, study, eat, sleep, pray, study," she said.


Contact George Ashworth at [email protected]

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