AAPD and NALSWD Combat Barriers to Success for Law Students with Disabilities

March 13, 2012 | Dana Fink

The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released a statement urging all organizations that administer law school exams to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and to cease the flagging of scores earned by students receiving accommodations. AAPD commends this decision by the ABA, but the controversy around this issue has caused the Higher Education Project team to realize the distinct barriers faced by law students with disabilities. AAPD recently partnered with the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSWD) to assess some of these issues, including a focus group we held at the conclusion of the NALSWD Annual Conference this weekend. Some barriers to success outlined by NALSWD members included:

• There is an absence of resources provided to prelaw advisors on seeking accommodations for the LSAT.
• There is an overall lack of knowledge regarding requesting accommodations on the LSAT or Bar Exam (which can be different based on each state – “how can I request my accommodations early enough if I don’t know in which state I will be able to find a job?”).
• Computer-assisted legal research services (e.g. Lexis-Nexis) are largely inaccessible to people using screen readers.
• Disability rights are frequently disregarded in civil rights classes, but many students have found allies in minority student groups, incorporating disability into the larger tapestry of diversity.
• The stigma of requesting accommodations, especially testing accommodations, is augmented in the highly-competitive environment of law school by both peers and teachers.
• Law students frequently cannot directly access services from the disability services office without having to first go through a law school dean.
• There are enormous mental health concerns with the character and fitness sections of the bar exam – “If I can’t pass this section should I even bother going to law school?”
• Students face a lack of support for employment after graduation.
• The tagging of testing scores by students receiving accommodations creates a stigma so great that many forgo accommodations
• Physical classroom accessibility is a concern.

Law students with disabilities face a unique set of challenges and the AAPD Higher Education Project and groups like NALSWD are here to help. Do you have a story about barriers you experienced in law school? Please share them with AAPD by e-mailing highereducation@www.aapd.com. Together, our voices are more powerful than alone and we will achieve full inclusion and equal access for law students with disabilities.

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