The Quest for equality in An Unfair Environment
By Omar Binno
In 2005, my brother Angelo, who was born blind, began looking into applying for Law School. In 2008 and 2010, he took the LSAT and was unable to pass because of the ‘Logic’ section of the test. This is a section that requires the visual faculties of the individual in order to draw pictures. Angelo’s case caught the attention of well-known attorney, Sam Bernstein and his firm.
Bernstein, who also has a blind son, knew first-hand the difficulties and the injustice of the problem that Angelo was facing. The firm took him on as a client and initiated a lawsuit against the American Bar Association, which the firm paid for entirely. Sam Bernstein’s son, Richard, who now sits as one of the judges on the Michigan Supreme Court, eventually spearheaded the case, and shortly after that, attorney Jason Turkish of Nyman Turkish was brought on board. The lawsuit spanned a six-year period in which the media also became heavily involved in order to exploit the issues with the ‘Logic’ section of the Bar exam.
For Angelo and I, being blind and growing up during the 80s and 90s was a unique experience. In the mid-80s, technology began emerging which enabled blind and other disabled individuals to use computers for various tasks. This especially became helpful for school projects that involved word processing. In 1990, the ‘Americans With Disabilities Act,’ (ADA,) was passed. “The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.” - https://adata.org/learn-about-ada
Despite the passing of the ADA, there are many barriers that still need overcoming in the real world. Public facilities began adapting to the needs of disabled individuals by building ramps for wheelchair accessibility, and putting braille labels on elevators. Yet, the bigger issues, such as: generating employment for blind and other disabled individuals, and providing efficient and cost-effective public transportation are major hurdles that still stubbornly persist. I can personally attest to the difficulty of finding employment as a blind person, even after graduating as a Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Communications, and a Master’s degree in Marketing and Public Relations, both from the University Of Detroit Mercy. In fact, according to the National Federation of the Blind, approximately 66% of blind adults capable of working are unemployed. - https://nfb.org/blindness-statistics
At the beginning of 2017, Angelo and the attorneys lost the case based on the contention that they were suing the wrong organization. The attorneys now plan on pursuing a lawsuit with the Law School Admissions Council, (LSAC.) This proves, yet again, though, that the laws created and regulated by the ADA still lack the necessary reinforcement to solidify the act both in the public and private sectors. In a time where equality is so adamantly sought and promoted by society and the media, Angelo’s case is an immense and needless stepping stone for someone trying to pursue his aspirations.
Wisam Naoum, a finance attorney and community activist, was shocked to hear about this case. “Lawyers pride themselves on coming up with creative solutions for their clients’ needs,” Naoum said. “That the Law School Admission Council either won’t or can’t revise the logic games section of the LSAT to accommodate the visually impaired is disappointing considering it serves as the gatekeeper to a profession that upholds the law - including a law that protects the disabled.”
My own experiences and those of Angelo’s in high school and college with note takers, scribes, and even guides from class to class until we learned the facilities were exceptionally positive. Any of the institutions we attended were highly accommodating in terms of providing the necessary means for us to succeed. There are, however, still many areas wherein the ADA has not been as providential or triumphant. All too often, employers are extremely reluctant or even unwilling to learn of what a blind or other disabled individual is capable of. Rather than asking if a person can perform a certain task, they simply shut the opportunity and the individual down by rejecting them with a generic “we’ll keep your information on file if we have a need for you in the future” letter.
Public transportation is also another obstacle for those who are disabled. It’s common knowledge that Michigan has the worst public transportation/transit system in the entire country. Angelo and I both use Uber and the public Smart bus system. The Smart bus system is poorly developed, though. Hence, we’re constrained to using it or Uber until driverless cars become the norm. Although Uber is far more cost-efficient than regular cab companies, more affordable public transportation would still be preferred.
I don’t think there’s a simple or quick solution to correcting these issues. However, that doesn’t mean I’m pessimistic about a fix, either. As with any other worthy cause, the most important element to success in this particular game is a constant voice that urges those in the game to keep going. Angelo has often felt disheartened throughout this lawsuit and has doubts that he’ll ever get to Law School. My advice to him has constantly been, “You may or may not get to live out that dream, but you’ve got to keep fighting and lead the way for those who will come after you’re gone.” This isn’t a battle, it’s a war; a war in which only an unwavering will can plant the seeds to break the real barriers that still exist for the disabled community.
Omar Binno received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University Of Detroit Mercy with a double major in English Literature and Communications, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Detroit Mercy in Public Relations and Marketing. He currently owns his own recording studio, ‘Art Of Audio,’ and his own band, ‘D’Town Rewind.’