Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blind woman becomes lawyer after winning injunction against Bar Examiners

From WUSA-TV in DC:

WASHINGTON -- A blind woman was sworn in to the DC bar Dec. 5 to become a lawyer, marking the end of an 8-year battle with bar examiners in two states to allow her and other blind candidates to use adaptive software of their choosing to take the test.

Even so, the National Conference of Bar Examiners continues to resist allowing blind candidates to take the bar exam on the terms of the blind individual.

Cathryn Bonnette (pictured) has sued the NCBE in California and in DC during her quest to take the bar exam with the help of adaptive software that is used by hundreds of thousands of blind people nationwide. The software translates text in electronic documents into speech that the blind user can hear and respond to.

Judges in 3 states and the District have issued injunctions in favor of students, but the NCBE argues that the judges have overstepped their authority because the organization offers other accommodations for blind candidates, such as in-person oral and braille exams.

In a court brief, the NCBE cites "legitimate cost, security and other programmatic concerns."

Bonnette says the NCBE should stop resisting. "You graduate law school. You've done well, and all of a sudden to take that licensing exam you can't get the software you need."

After winning an injunction in DC, Bonnette passed the bar exam in July using the translational software she is comfortable with.

After her swearing in as a lawyer, Bonnette said she plans to advocate for other disabled people in battles for access.

Law students in Maryland have so far been unable to force the NCBE to allow the software on that state's bar exam.

"They're forcing us to fight a state-by-state battle Bonnette complained.