Advocacy update: I am consulting with an attorney who specializes in testing accommodation denials. I have to compile all the documentation, including all correspondence to anyone about the subject, current eye report, and history of past testing accommodations, if any, and a reason as to why my needs have changed so dramatically since graduating from college.
I've told these people at the testing center that my needs have changed because I'm going blind, I use a guide dog, and I can't see printed material anymore. I have to constantly be reminded of my disability in order to push for the testing accommodations. I am already drained emotionally and if I survive this, get my license, it will be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life thus far. I have to somehow convey to others how impossible this will be, how absolutely excruciating any progress in this fight to just be given equal access to a test my whole career depends upon will extract from me It makes me angry, frustrated, and the feelings are so powerful I often give in to crying just to let it go, if only for the moment.
. I hope I don't become a husk, a burnt-out, angry and bitter blinkie who got shafted by the "system".
I want to rise above it, stay strong, but, half the time I'm at a loss as to how to keep it going. I really think I have to start seeing a therapist again, just to stay grounded.
Anyway, just want to share some of what I'm dealing with, for those of you who read this blog, thanks for listening.
Here's the letter to the people who have made my life hell so far:
AAMFT National Headquarters
Dr. Linda S. Metcalf, President
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
112 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3061
Professional Examination Service/Prometrics
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
Regulatory Board, New York State
New York State Board for Mental Health Practitioners
NYS Education Department Office of the Professions
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234-1000
January 20, 2012
Dear Dr. Metcalf:
My name is Ann Chiappetta. I am a permitted licensing candidate practicing as a family therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in New York State who happens to be blind and uses a guide dog. I am currently experiencing barriers regarding equal access to the National MFT membership application and exam process.
The first barrier is the lack of accessibility for individuals with print disabilities who use screen reading software and wish to access electronic information from the AAMFT website, www.aamft.org, the regulatory Board’s site, http://www.amftrb.org/, or the testing site for N.Y. State, Prometrics: http://www.prometric.com/SA/default1.htm.
I cannot independently obtain essential information related to my profession as a practicing marriage and family therapist from any of the websites; it is, therefore, a form of discrimination based on my disability and a violation under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
I have spent countless hours trying to independently apply for AAMFT membership and register for my exam and have been unable to do so due to a number of barriers, all of which could be easily resolved with updates to the websites reflecting wc3 web accessibility standards and adherence to Federal 508 compliance. If the websites were updated to reflect these regulations, I would not be writing this letter and be well on my way to paying for a membership and taking my exam.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. I am writing to inform you, that as the National association responsible for creating, and overseeing the compliance of the websites and the administering of the National exam, that my rights to equal access are being violated. I am not being afforded equal and reasonable accommodations by either the AAMFT or the testing facility, which puts me at a serious disadvantage over my peers. I have been trying to secure a reasonable testing accommodation for the N.Y. State licensing examination for Marriage and Family Therapists, to wit, to take the licensing exam using JAWS, an assistive screen-reader program that happens to be the one I use routinely in my work and daily life. While various testing accommodations may exist, a best practice standard is to offer the accommodation that would best ensure an accurate depiction of my knowledge and demonstrate my true abilities, and I believe I am being denied this level of accommodation.
As for the barrier encountered with the examination process, my disability does not allow me to read print. I rely on a text-to-speech screen reader called JAWS and I rely on this synthesized type of speech for everything from my smart phone to reading soup cans. I have trained my brain and hearing to this fast and clear reading aid, and I require it for taking the 200 question exam. I was denied the request by the New York State’s Division of Licensing Board and instead told that if I could not use screen magnification, a human reader would be provided. I do not now, nor have I ever, used a human person to read or record information for me. As I cannot read printed material, magnifying the text is not suitable. A human reader would put me at a significant disadvantage, downgrading my ability to perform optimally during the examination, like my sighted peers. It is a well known fact that a human person cannot read as fast or respond as quickly to directions like a computer generated speech synthesizer and keyboard commands.
The sighted test takers are offered a computer-generated exam. Test takers with low vision can be accommodated with screen magnification for the exam, so why can’t I also be granted the assistive technology I require to take the exam on a computer, too? This is the question that no one wants to answer and all I’ve gotten is silence and excuses. I related all of this to Ms. Naccarato but she declined to help me. I wish to emphasize that I already have the equipment needed on a preloaded disk, thus the program I use routinely would simply need to be down-loaded onto the testing computer. The Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped is also willing to purchase this program for the testers, Prometrics and the AAMFT. As the technology is available, and would be at no cost to the tester, why can’t the computer I get assigned to me for the test get outfitted for my specific use? I could even bring my own laptop if they preferred. There is a cost to hiring readers, which for an 8-hour exam would require multiple readers, each of who are supposed to be trained and familiar with the testing materials and able to explain the graphics they might see.
I have been told that using my adaptive equipment might place me at an advantage over my sighted peers, but it seems to me that being blind and taking an 8-hour test is a sufficient challenge in and of itself. The program does not give me any answers, but merely lets me process the questions and potential graphics in a way familiar to me.
It may be of interest to you that case law in other states have supported this standard on several occasions, most notably in the case of Enyart v. National Bar Examiners where the Court examined the ADA’s specific provision that covers professional exams (42 USC-12189). The Court noted in this case that a standard of “reasonableness” in an accommodation was fine for employment, but that professional exams were another matter entirely.
According to Carol Allman, PhD, in a position paper on accommodations for testing students with visual impairments, (www.aph.org/tests/accomodations) she notes in bold print that any accommodations provided for students during the testing window should be ones typically used by that student…and not new or unfamiliar ones.
I am asking for your support regarding this issue; not supporting my request would mean not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and would serve to perpetuate the barriers mentioned above making it impossible for me to take the exam to the best of my ability. My professional future is at stake and I am requesting immediate intervention. If we cannot resolve these barriers I will have no choice but to seek out legal counsel to compel action.
Ann Chiappetta, M.S.
cc: E. Bridges/ACB; B. Daniels, Director, CBVH; S. Nacarato, Div. Lic. NYS