[Washington, D.C., August 2020] This week, the National Disabled Law Students Association (NDLSA) submitted a comment to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals urging the court to adopt a diploma privilege approach to admitting attorneys to the D.C. bar in light of current conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this summer, officials cancelled the July 2020 D.C. Bar Examination and scheduled an online exam for October 2020 in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The D.C. Court of Appeals has since received requests from other interested parties to consider establishing a procedure for admitting law-school graduates without taking the bar, and to consider allowing law-school graduates who have not yet been admitted to the D.C. Bar to temporarily practice law in D.C.. While the Court presently intends to proceed with the October exam as scheduled, it requested public comment to assist in its deliberations.  

Elsewhere in the country, state bar associations’ solutions to pandemic-related problems are insufficient in that they have required candidates to sit for an online bar exam. These exams have an especially disparate impact on disabled test-takers for a number of reasons, including the fact that many states have preconditioned ADA-required accommodations on taking an in-person exam, while test-takers who are not receiving accommodations are taking the exam remotely, online. This has the effect of putting those test-takers who are accommodated and immunocompromised and thus more likely to be in high-risk categories for contracting COVID-19, at even greater risk.

Members of other marginalized groups are also subject to inequitable effects in online exam taking as evidenced by the fact that the programming of AI is subject to a programming bias against Black test-takers. The alternative to AI monitoring is also proven to have lopsided effects among female test-takers in the medical field who reported receiving friend requests from male proctors who watched the test-takers for several hours as they completed their exam. NDLSA hopes that in light of its comment, the Court of Appeals will take notice of the inaccessibility and inequality that are rampant in the administration of an online bar exam and decide in favor of accessibility and equity.

To access an accessible version of the comment in blue, click here.

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