The ADA says, "Any person that offers examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or post-secondary education, professional, or trade purposes shall offer such examinations or courses in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals."
This requirement was included in the ADA in order to assure that people with disabilities aren’t foreclosed from educational, professional, or trade opportunities because an exam or course is conducted in an inaccessible site or without a needed accommodation. This requirement doesn't necessarily mean that an individual is entitled to whatever he or she demands. Each individual with a disability, however, must have the opportunity to fairly demonstrate his or her abilities in order to pursue personal dreams. It’s always a balancing act between what accommodation is needed and the ability to maintain the integrity of the exam.
Test taking poses challenges and stress levels increase dramatically for most people. I still have nightmares remembering all the tests I took years ago in order to receive my professional license. But imagine if you had a visual impairment and couldn't read the test? What if you couldn't hear the tester’s verbal instructions because of a hearing impairment? What if you just returned from combat with a service-related injury and are easily distracted by sudden noises, such as ambulance and fire engine sirens, because the exam is offered in a city classroom and the window is open? Test taking can present overwhelming obstacles for individuals with disabilities and their needs can vary greatly.
The Justice Department (DOJ) recently announced that it will intervene in a class action lawsuit against the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) in federal court in San Francisco charging that that LSAC with widespread and systemic deficiencies in the way it processes requests by people with disabilities for testing accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) because of its routine denial of accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants have submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated history of testing accommodations. The DOJ further alleges that LSAC discriminates against prospective law students with disabilities by unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process. LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA.
Below are several general guidelines to consider when offering such exam:
- Offer the exam in a facility that’s wheelchair accessible with quiet and distraction free rooms or provide alternative accessible arrangements when requested.
- Review policies and procedures to make sure that only documentation about the existence of disability and how it limits the applicant’s ability to take the test under standard conditions is requested.
- Talk with the applicant about possible test accommodations that can be provided in order to demonstrate his or her ability and achievement level without compromising the integrity of the test.
- Establish a procedure that is responsive to requests for alternate formats (e.g., oral presentations, projects, essay instead of multiple choice; written paper instead of oral presentation; demonstration of skills).
- Review the exam to ensure that it’s well-organized with concise instructions.
- Allow extended test-taking time if the test is not specifically measuring the individual’s ability to complete a task in a given time period.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.