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Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- The company that administers the California bar exam has asked a federal appeals court to stop a blind law student from using computer-assisted reading devices in the test, which starts in two weeks.
The company, the nonprofit National Conference of Bar Examiners, filed an emergency motion Tuesday asking the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to suspend a federal judge's order requiring the firm to accommodate Stephanie Enyart.
Urgent action is needed, the company said, because Enyart might otherwise pass the test with computer assistance that she is not legally entitled to receive. Enyart works as a law clerk for Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley and would suffer no hardship by waiting a few months for an appeals court to review the case, the company said.
Anna Levine, a Disability Rights Advocates lawyer who represents Enyart, called the request "flabbergasting ... irrational and mean-spirited."
Enyart, 32, has been legally blind since 15 from macular degeneration and retinal dystrophy. As a UCLA law student, she took tests on a laptop with software that magnified the text and read the questions into earbuds.
But she has not taken the bar exam because the nonprofit company, which administers the two multiple-choice portions of the California test, refused to allow the same arrangements.
The company, which uses some of its questions on successive exams, said putting the test on a computer disk would expose its content to thieves. Its lawyers also argue that disabled students are not entitled to their preferred accommodations, only to those that provide reasonable access.
The examiners offered a pencil-and-paper test with questions displayed on a large screen, a human reader and twice the usual three-day testing period. Enyart said she would become nauseous from having to look at the screen and needed the computer setup to have a fair chance of passing.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco ordered the accommodations Jan. 29 and said the bar examiners could provide their own computer for increased security.
The company said in Tuesday's motion that it still faces security risks from loading the questions into a laptop and shipping it to California. And although Breyer specified that his order applies only to Enyart, the company said other visually impaired students might take advantage of the ruling to demand their own preferred accommodations.