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June 7, 2011

Blind WB resident sues ABA over law test

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

WEST BLOOMFIELD — A West Bloomfield man is suing the American Bar Association because he believes the group discriminates against aspiring law students who are blind.

Angelo Binno, 28, of West Bloomfield filed the lawsuit May 24 against the ABA in federal court. The lawsuit seeks injunctive and declaratory relief to “put an end to the American Bar Association’s failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990” with regard to the group’s accreditation standards.

According to the suit, the accreditation standards impose standardized law school entrance exams — namely the Law Schools Admission Test — that discriminate against blind people because their questions require test takers to comprehend spatial and visual relationships.

Binno’s attorney, Richard Bernstein of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm in Farmington Hills, said his client is seeking a waiver from the LSAT due to his visual impairment. Bernstein said this case is among the most important that he’ll ever handle.

“The reason for that is, the only way that you are going to have more civil rights and more disability rights ... is to have more attorneys who have disabilities who are part of the practice of law,” he said.

Binno, a West Bloomfield High School graduate, said he earned a political science degree from Wayne State University in 2005, and he used to work for the Department of Homeland Security.

He said he considered several law schools, including the University of Detroit. The lawsuit states that he failed to gain admission into three local law schools due to poor LSAT scores.

“I’ve had to struggle in my life,” Binno said. “I’m a minority; I’m Chaldean; and I’m also disabled — I’m blind. I love fighting for the disabled, the underprivileged, the little guy.”

Bernstein said the LSAT discriminates against blind people in that a major portion of it focuses on logical reasoning that requires visual and spatial cues. To answer these questions correctly, test takers have to sketch diagrams, he said.

According to Exhibit A in the lawsuit, LSAT test directions state that “in answering some of the questions, it may be useful to draw a rough diagram.”

Such questions are not suitable for blind people even if the test is given in Braille or on tape, Bernstein said. “Blind people cannot draw diagrams,” he said. “They are physically incapable of doing that.”

Bernstein, who also is blind, said he was able to get a waiver on the LSAT back when he was applying for law school, but the ABA has since passed a resolution that punishes or even removes the accreditation of law schools that issue waivers.

ABA spokeswoman Anne Nicholas presented a statement that said her group will formally answer the lawsuit in court. The statement says the ABA has a deep, longstanding commitment to diversity, eliminating bias and promoting opportunities for people with disabilities in the legal community.

While the ABA’s standard says that a law student applying to a school must take “a valid and reliable admission test,” it has never required the use of the LSAT, according to the statement.

“An ABA-approved law school may use another valid and reliable test for law school admissions purposes,” she said. “Several ABA-approved law schools use tests other than the LSAT for admission purposes.”

The ABA’s standard does not set the weight that law schools give to test scores, and the ABA calls on schools to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the statement maintains.

“Consistent with these principles and standards, the ABA believes that the LSAT does not unlawfully discriminate against persons with disabilities,” the statement reads.

However, Binno’s lawsuit states that the ABA “knows or should know” that the LSAT is the only widely used and commercially available test for law school applicants.

Bernstein added that while law schools are not instructed on how much weight they should assign to the exam, rating organizations, such as U.S. News & World Report, use the scores to rank schools’ quality.

“If a law school takes a very low LSAT score, that will hurt them in their ranking — it’s like ranking suicide,” he said.