The year 2000 marks the tenth anniversary of the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). It also marks a quarter century since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (“EAHCA”). The EAHCA opened the doors for disabled children to receive a free and appropriate education. As a result of this special education law, many disabled young people were able to succeed and are now knocking at law schools' doors seeking admission.
On July 26, 1990, Congress enacted the ADA, a landmark civil rights bill designed to open up all aspects of American life to individuals with disabilities. The stated purpose of this federal law is to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The focus of the ADA is to furnish strong and consistent standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, Congress bestows on the federal government the primary responsibility for enforcing the standards established by the ADA.
Law schools face the challenge of providing disabled students reasonable accommodations in a fair and equitable manner. Disabled law students are demanding academic modifications in course examinations -- claiming to be persons with mental and physical disabilities. Law schools, by virtue of the entitlements under the ADA, are witnessing requests for exam modifications, including: changes in exam format; additional test time to complete an exam; and test relocation for environmental control purposes.
This article discusses and analyzes court decisions addressing reasonable accommodations in the academic arena of law school examinations. The text illustrates the impact of the ADA and the direction courts are heading as they tackle this difficult and important area of law. In a prior study, eighty law schools from across the country were surveyed to obtain data and elicit their opinions on questions relating to academic modifications. The empirical data is intended to serve as a backdrop for elaboration and comparison of these and other questions. The significant number of disabled students seeking academic modifications in their law school education warrants such an inquiry. Law schools continue to grapple with claims from disabled students for fair and equitable treatment. An additional concern is the desire to avoid a backlash from the non-disabled students who want to prevent providing disabled students an unfair advantage in the law school setting.
What Law Schools Are Doing to Accommodate Students with Learning Disabilities, 42 S. Tex. L. Rev. 19 (2000)