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After two years of legal wrangling, the Law School Admission Council and the National Federation of the Blind have reached a settlement–with the help of the Justice Department–over the accessibility of the Web site nearly every U.S. law school uses to accept student applications. The council has agreed to make its entire Web site accessible to blind users without their having to rely on assistance from someone over the telephone. Under the existing system, blind applicants must call the council’s customer support service during working hours to complete the online application forms. Under the settlement, new technology will allow blind users to independently complete applications whenever they want. “We don’t see this as an admission of liability,” said council President Daniel Bernstine. “Rather, we see it as an opportunity to make our Web site more accessible to blind students. When we got to a point where we could make the Web site 100% accessible, that’s something we wanted to do.” Under the settlement, the changes will be in place by early September–in time for the next cycle of law school admissions. “Access to Web sites is critical to the full and equal participation of blind people in all aspects of modern life,” federation president Marc Maurer said in a written statement. “In this instance, access is especially critical, since without it blind people experience significant barriers to entering the legal profession.” The federation filed a lawsuit against the council in California state court in February 2009. Baltimore attorney Daniel Goldstein, representing the federation, said the settlement brings an end to the Web site dispute. The technology that the council has agreed to use converts the information on a computer screen into either Braille or synthesized speech, allowing blind users to read or interact with the content. The Credential Assembly Service, which makes it easier for would-be students to apply to multiple schools, and practice LSATs will be fully accessible to blind users. In addition to the California lawsuit, the federation filed complaints last May with the Justice Department’s civil rights division against nine law schools that use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. The organization sought to compel those schools to drop the service until it was fully accessible to the blind. One of those schools–Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School–has entered into a separate settlement with the Justice Department. The school will notify applicants of the services available to them through the council to assist in completing their applications; highlight its policies against discrimination based on disability; and stop using the Credential Assembly Service unless it is fully accessible to the blind by September 2012. According to a Justice Department press release, the government is working toward similar agreements with the other eight law schools. “Increased use of the Internet or other electronic technologies may enhance convenience for law schools and applicants alike, but the rights of individuals with disabilities may not be violated in the process,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. “In this case, blind students were denied an equal opportunity to apply to law school.” Karen Sloan can be contacted at [email protected] .

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