The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. An applicant with a disability, who is qualified to sit for the bar examination and who proves a disability related need, is entitled to reasonable testing accommodations.
To ensure that your application for accommodations is complete, accurate, applies to your needs and conforms to the law, it is important to be familiar with the legal terminology for a disability and how it applies in the context of testing accommodations.
“Disability”means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).
"Physical impairment" means a physiological disorder or condition or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body’s systems.29 C.F.R. § 1630.2 (h)(1).
"Mental impairment" means a mental or psychological disorder such as organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, attention deficit disorder and specific learning disabilities.29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(2).
“Substantially limits” means unable to perform a major life activity that an average person in the general population can perform, or, significantly restricted in the manner or duration in which the individual can perform that activity. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2 (j)(1).
“Major life activities”includes self-care, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating and working.29 C.F.R. §1630.2(i).
“Qualified applicant with a disability” means an individual with a disability who has met all the requirements to sit for the California Bar Exam and who is otherwise qualified to take the exam with or without reasonable accommodations.29 C.F.R. §1630.2 (m).
“Reasonable testing accommodations” means accommodations or adjustments that alleviate the impact of the applicant’s impairment without:
If you seek accommodations, be prepared to disclose all pertinent information that will allow the bar examiners to make an informed decision.
Remember that “reasonable accommodations” for the purposes of the bar or MPRE does not necessarily mean ideal accommodations.
Applicants have the burden of persuasion to establish that:
1)They have a disability as defined by the ADA and
2)They have a need for nonstandard test accommodations.
Once an applicant establishes a prima facie case, the burden switches to the bar examiners to explain why the requested accommodations cannot be provided.
However, if you are denied accommodations the bar examiners will claim it was because you failed to establish your prima facie case.That is why documentation is important.
Applicants who received testing accommodations in law school are not necessarily granted the same accommodations on the bar. The Committee considers accommodations received in law school as one of many factors in determining whether a person will receive accommodations for the bar exam, but it is not a deciding factor.
Submit your requests for exam accommodations as far in advance of the filing deadline as possible.How early you can apply depends upon the nature of your disability. Some accommodations petitions require supporting documentation dated within one year of the filing deadline, while others require documentation within five years. Disabilities that must be updated within five years include learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and permanent physical disabilities.Disabilities that require documentation within one year include most mental health conditions and most types of physical impairments.
If you have any special issues or needs that could affect your performance on the Bar exam, think about whether you may need accommodations. Even if you never used testing accommodations in law school, understand that the bar exam is different.The California bar exam is designed to last three full days.Test-takers sit for several-hour stretches in folding chairs with little or no back support. The bar exam is a stressful process for all examinees, with or without disabilities.Examinees with disabilities, however, can find the process particularly troublesome.Standard exam conditions fail to account for the impact of a disability on the Bar exam itself or on the examinee’s health.
Accommodations are intended to ameliorate the impact of an applicant’s disability on the exam process. Evaluate your needs carefully to be certain you are not overlooking something that could impact your performance.
Applying for accommodations takes time and effort.Applicants are not guaranteed to get each accommodation requested.Still, it is important to petition for any accommodations you believe are necessary.Accommodations could make a critical difference in whether you pass or fail these crucial exams.
Lisa Noshay Petro, Director
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 440
Laura Andrews Navas, Senior Program Coordinator
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 442