Sometimes Life Doesn't Provide Reasonable Accommodation

10 Dec, 2012 Bob Wilson


For today's musings I have donned my best pair of protective underwear. I am talking first rate defensive undies; top tier asbestos lined Kevlar with integrated steel cup and skid mark resistant technology.

There is a reason I take such protective measures. I need to be prepared. I am about to thoroughly enrage some disability advocates.

The State Bar of California said last week that a lawyer should no longer be allowed to practice law in California because she lied about having a disability in order to get more time to take the 2009 bar exam. She allegedly claimed a disability that required her to have special accommodation for the test. Specifically, she asked for, and was granted an additional 50% time allotment and given a semi private room to complete the exam.

She apparently indicated that she had been given similar accommodations from the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate. Two years later in 2011 she applied to sit for the Bar exam in the State of New York, with the same claim of disability. The Board of Law Examiners there discovered she had never received official accommodation in school and barred her from reapplying for the exam for two years. As a result, the California Bar is saying she "committed acts of moral turpitude and dishonesty in violation of the business and professions code", and is recommending her license to practice law be cancelled.

There are a couple things about this story that stand out to me. First, and most laughable, is that the California Bar will not reveal what disability she claimed to have, citing confidentiality of admissions records. I can see not revealing an actual disability, but it seems a tad silly to be protecting an apparently non-existent one. After all, inquiring minds want to know, damnit!

In the absence of that specific info, we are left to speculate (which is always where I get in trouble). I am assuming for sake of argument that she alleged some sort of anxiety affliction or an attention disorder that required the additional time and semi private room.

This leads me to the point where I will get in big, big, BIG trouble. Her alleged dishonesty aside, my question surrounding this is:

Even if the disability was real, who would want this person as their lawyer? With very few exceptions, why would I want a lawyer who apparently can't function properly in groups or under pressure?

I know lawyers with challenges and disabilities. I know lawyers in wheelchairs. I know lawyers with profound hearing loss. Every one of them could and did pass the bar within the allotted time with some reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation should allow someone equal opportunity to meet a preset standard, not a reset standard. Extending the time and changing the environment are not accommodations. They are moving the goal posts, and damaging the reputation of all others who have obtained that status.

I realize my speculation on the disability leaves me with an incomplete picture, but I'm sorry, I don't think I would want a lawyer (particularly one who bills by the hour) who needs 50% more time to do the job. Or one that can't perform a deposition with any people in the room, or is incapable of reporting to the board or important committee.

I understand that we are a compassionate society that wants to give everyone an equal opportunity at all things wild and wonderful. However, it can't always work out that way. Just because you can pass an exam with modified standards doesn't mean you can do the job in the real world. After all, would you want to know your heart surgeon needed similar accommodation to pass his medical exams?

I might be able to pass those medical exams if they give me enough time and let me copy the answers out of a book. That doesn't mean I'd be a competent surgeon. And I hate to break it to you; if you are a blind narcoleptic with a fear of heights, your dreams of piloting a jumbo jet are, unlike your aviation career, pretty much in the wind.

Sometimes real life doesn't provide a reasonable accommodation. We would all be better served to remember that. True reason within accommodation is moving people to the goal posts, not moving the goal posts to the people.

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