Burlington, Vermont - August 2, 2011
A Vermont Law School student is entering her final year, but she has already won one decision in Federal Court. Deanna Jones, 44, hopes to practice disability law in the future, but this case could play a huge role in whether or not that happens.
Jones has been studying for her ethics exam, required of every law student in the country, for the better part of the summer. Thanks to a federal judge's ruling, she will be able to take it the way she wants. A dream of hers since childhood.
She said, "People used to say with that mouth of yours you need to be a lawyer."
Jones is legally blind, and has been since she was five. Later in life, she was also diagnosed with an auditory learning disability which means she needs to have text so she can read along when someone is reading to her for her to fully comprehend.
"Kurzweil reads to me and Zoom Text gives me the ability to zoom in if I really need to look at a word," she explained.
She says these computer programs which enlarge the font to size 72, highlight words in different colors and read the text aloud are the reason she has made it this far in law school.
Jones explained, "Using these in combination has been the gold ticket."
She wants to use these programs to navigate her required ethics exam in just a few days, but the National Conference of Bar Examiners denied her request arguing that is not necessary. So Jones made a federal case about it.
Jones' lawyer, Emily Joselson, said, "We had to ask the court to issue a preliminary injunction which is an unusual measure asking the court to order a party to do something in a relatively short period of time."
The bar examiners had agreed to let Jones have someone read her the test, but in court argued against letting her use the computer program, saying it could help someone, "place a thumb drive in the laptop and copy the test."
That it has already accommodated visually impaired test takers by "no longer using a human voice on it's audio CD finding a synthetic voice preferable."
And that it's just too expensive saying the company would incur costs of $300,000 a year based on their estimation of 60 requests annually.
Jones' lawyers argued not only does she need these programs, but according to the American with Disabilities Act using them is her legal right.
"How you could gain any advantage from that is really beyond me," Jones said.
Judge Christina Reiss granted Deanna's injunction allowing her to take the test this Friday with the computer, saying that her arguments are reasonable. But Jones' lawyers say the fight is not over yet, and that the battle could continue for years if the NCBE does not back down.
Molly Smith - WCAX News