Marvel Superheroes, Major Lawsuits And Universal Accessibility On Standardized Tests
With countless comics, a hit series and a critically panned film, there’s still one question that’s never been answered about Marvel’s blind crime-fighter, Daredevil: What was his LSAT score?
Accessibility Problems On The LSAT
Let’s back up for a moment. If you’re among the 125,000-plus people expected to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) this year, you’ll have to navigate its notoriously challenging Logic Games. These elaborate puzzles describe scenarios with multiple variables, such as clowns leaving a clown car. Based on a fixed set of rules, students must order the variables, group them together or both.
Logic Games are usually solved with diagrams. But as Angelo Binno pointed out in his recently settled lawsuit against LSAC (Law School Admissions Council), many blind people can’t do that. Blind LSAT-takers have historically used tactile mats, raised-line drawing apparatuses or Excel spreadsheets to tackle Logic Games, but those workarounds didn’t help everyone. Now, according to the Binno settlement, within four years, LSAC will have to find a more accessible way to test analytical reasoning skills.
Accessibility Issues Are Widespread In Standardized Testing/Test Prep
One of the biggest challenges with accessibility is that an accommodation for one can be a barrier for another.
For instance, LSAC’s 2019 transition from pencil/paper to an all-digital LSAT was praised for “expanding accessibility.” Just removing the challenge of holding a pencil helped many test-takers with physical disabilities. But what about invisible disabilities, including ADD and migraines, that can be triggered by staring at screens? And not everyone is comfortable using tablets. Seniors, in particular, may experience anxiety about using unfamiliar devices.
It’s not just the LSAT, either. At the undergraduate level, the SAT/ACT exams have also come under fire for discriminating against the disabled, minorities and lower-income students. Colleges that don’t consider SAT/ACT scores become more diverse. On the other side the spectrum, after law school, the Bar Exam looms. Blind J.D. graduates have long struggled to find appropriate bar review materials in Braille.
Best Practices For Accessible Test Preparation
The world seems to be moving away from the SATs/ACTs. Perhaps the age of standardized testing is drawing to a close, but it’s not over yet. And as long as students with disabilities need to take standardized tests, test prep companies will have a major role to play in ensuring that testing is as fair as possible.
Here are some best practices for test preparation companies/tutors/publishers:
• Listen to students. No two people are exactly alike, even if they share a disability. For example, some people with visual impairments read Braille, while others prefer a screen reader. Instead of leaping to offer every blind student Braille materials, ask what accommodations each individual needs. Don’t forget that the process of requesting accommodations needs to be universally accessible, too!
• Understand that disability affects many students. One in five adults has at least one disability. If making a few changes might allow you to serve 20% of students better, there’s absolutely no excuse not to.
• Conduct an accessibility audit. Take a moment to review the materials you provide and ask yourself who might not be best served by them. For instance, people with low manual dexterity may not benefit from physical flashcards. Then, consider how to make those materials more accessible. For example, building hands-free digital flashcards (something we’ve done in our GREMax app) expands the usefulness of these materials beyond able-bodied students.
• Make working for your company accessible, too. The best way to avoid accessibility pitfalls is to have people with disabilities in the room where your decisions are made. One motto of the disability rights movement is “Nothing about us without us!” So, if you care about accessibility, hire people with disabilities, promote them, develop their skills and listen when they make suggestions.
• Consider economic access, too. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as nondisabled Americans. All the accessible materials in the world are meaningless to students who can’t afford them. Think about how you can adjust pricing or offer scholarships to ensure that everyone can access them.
Moving accessibility forward requires empathy, collaboration and humility. Together, perhaps we can create a world where standardized tests measure aptitude, not able-bodiedness.
Back To Daredevil…
The LSAT is so inaccessible to blind students that LSAC agreed to redesign Logic Games, but Matt still managed to ace it. Did he have to use his superpowers? Probably not, at least not if you ask today’s visually impaired current/future attorneys. Despite significant barriers to access, blind law students/lawyers are excelling, including at Google and at my own alma mater, Harvard Law.
Imagine what these talented individuals could accomplish if they didn’t have to waste time and energy dealing with inaccessible testing formats, unaccommodating test prep companies and other accessibility roadblocks.
Some Final Thoughts
If I’ve convinced you that accessibility is a key issue in the testing/test preparation space, here are three easy action items to help you get moving on universal accessibility today.
First, start the conversation. Just asking, “Can we take a closer look at the accessibility of our offerings?” may lead to identifying and fixing problems.
Second, get everyone’s input. Don’t target only visibly disabled employees and students when seeking feedback on potential accessibility improvements. Many disabilities are invisible. Cast the widest possible net when sending out accessibility surveys or asking for ideas. Keep some channels of communication anonymous so people who aren’t ready to disclose their disability status may contribute, too.
Lastly, don’t wait for a better time to implement changes. There’s never a perfect moment to spend time and money improving accessibility. But nobody gets to wait for a convenient time to acquire a disability. If you suspect you have work to do on accessibility, then know every delay leaves some students out in the cold