Law schools face the challenge of providing disabled students with reasonable accommodations in their academic setting in a fair and equitable manner. Disabled law students continue to demand academic modifications in course examinations by claiming to be persons with mental or physical disabilities. Law schools are also beginning to see requests for extension of time for degree completion, priority in course registration, and authorization to tape record classes, all by virtue of an entitlement under the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Persons with a wide range of disabilities are seeking academic modifications from their law schools. What disabilities are most often represented? Are persons with learning disabilities inclined to seek additional time in completing their final exams? Are students with a mental illness more or less inclined to self-identify and seek similar reasonable accommodations? For those disabled students who are provided with additional time to complete their course examinations, how much additional time is fair and equitable? Should law schools provide readers for blind students and sign language interpreters for deaf students, or modify classroom equipment for physically disabled students?
When law schools consider providing reasonable accommodations in academic programs to their disabled students, what is the role of the law school professor in approving the requested modification? How does anonymous grading affect a disabled student's request for an academic modification? Do most students who seek an accommodation have the request honored? Is there an administrative appeal process within the law school community? For those disabled law students who desire an academic modification, what, if any, medical, psychological, or educational documentation is required? Do law schools have written policies and procedures for addressing requests by disabled students?
A fundamental issue underlying the provision of reasonable accommodations within a law school setting is the future impact such an accommodation may have when the disabled lawyer subsequently represents a client in a legal proceeding. Do law schools provide a disservice by offering an "advantage" to a disabled law student when as a lawyer, no such "benefit" is provided? Do law schools, under the mandate of the ADA, recognize that providing academic modifications to disabled students has a significant impact beyond legal education, affecting the bar admission process, bar examination, attorney grievance and disbarment procedures, and employment of lawyers in the work place in general?
The empirical data contained in this Article is submitted to serve as a backdrop for purposes of elaboration and comparison of these and other questions. Eighty law schools from across the country were surveyed to obtain data and elicit their opinions on such questions relating to academic modifications. The significant number of disabled students seeking an academic modification in their law school education warrants such inquiry. Law schools continue to grapple with disabled students' claims for fair and equitable treatment, as well as the desire to avoid a backlash from the nondisabled students who want to avoid providing disabled students with an unfair advantage in the law school setting.
This Article discusses and analyzes court decisions in the area of reasonable accommodations in the academic arena in order to understand the impact of the ADA and the direction courts are heading as they tackle this difficult and important area of law. Finally, this Article offers recommendations regarding fair and equitable reasonable accommodations for disabled law students in the academic setting.
The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Legal Education and Academic Modifications for Disabled Law Students: An Empirical Study, 44 U. Kan. L. Rev. 567 (1996)