Demanding Equal Access to Test Prep Services, Blind Students Sue BarBri

Dallas, TX – The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC) filed a lawsuit today on behalf of several blind law students and recent graduates against BarBri, the biggest legal bar exam preparation company in the nation. Their suit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in the Dallas Division, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Plaintiffs claim that BarBri fails to provide equal access to key parts of its bar preparation courses, leaving them — and other blind students and recent graduates — with inferior tools to pass the exam and become licensed attorneys.

One of the Plaintiffs, Claire Stanley, graduated from law school and is working at a nonprofit, but must pass the bar exam to represent her clients, who all have disabilities. “This lawsuit is extremely important and necessary in order to allow me and other blind people to enter the practice of law,” said Stanley. “Preparing for the bar exam is difficult enough, but it is much worse knowing that BarBri won’t make simple changes to allow me to access important study materials and puts me at a disadvantage compared to everybody else.”

“BarBri is violating federal law by providing inferior services to blind people who hope to become lawyers and by refusing to offer equal access to crucial preparation tools,” said TCRP Regional Legal Director Hani Mirza.

“Most blind people access the internet by using screen software that vocalizes visual information or displays the content in Braille,” explained Derek Manners, a Plaintiff who is graduating from Harvard Law this spring. “Unlike others in the business of education and preparation, BarBri refuses to make many of its important preparation materials, like electronic books, practice tests, and feedback for essays, available to blind customers. I want to have a fair chance to pass the bar and start my job at the law firm of Allen & Overy this fall. BarBri said all of its materials were accessible when it signed me up for the course, but it appears that is not true. That’s not fair at all.”

“When I complained to BarBri,” Ms. Stanley added, “it did not do anything to fix the problem — for me or hundreds of other blind people. It was just business as usual for BarBri.”

WLC Disability Rights Staff Attorney Deepa Goraya said, “BarBri’s lack of accessibility is greatly disturbing, particularly given its role as the gate-keeper of the legal profession. We sent a letter to BarBri and put it on notice that it was violating the rights of its blind law students, but BarBri ignored us. Today, with so many advances in technology, individuals from different backgrounds and varying abilities are graduating from law school. BarBri must be mindful of the needs of this diverse community when offering its bar review services. BarBri cannot ignore this lawsuit.”

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Press inquiries should be directed to Rolando Perez at rolando@texascivilrightsproject.org or at (512) 474-5073 x 107, or to Matthew Handley at (202) 319-1000 or matthew_handley@washlaw.org.

TCRP and WLC spokespeople are available for broadcast interviews in Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C. A copy of the Complaint is available on-line at www.washlaw.org.

For more than 45 years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has represented individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights. It has handled over 5,000 civil rights cases in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. It represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and military service and status.

For 25 years, TCRP has used legal advocacy to empower Texas communities and create policy change. Today — with high-caliber attorneys and professionals in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley and an extensive network of pro bono counsel and community allies — TCRP is among the most influential civil rights organizations in the Lone Star State.