October 12, 2021– Alameda, CA—Earlier this week, TRE Legal Practice (TRE) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a disability rights lawsuit in California State Court against the California Department of Insurance (CDI) for its failure to ensure the accessibility of its licensing exam for insurance agents to blind applicants. The lawsuit also includes claims against PSI Services, the private entity that CDI contracts with to administer the exam. The case challenges both entities’ failure to ensure that the exam is accessible to blind individuals who use screen reading software that audibly reads visually displayed text. Read the complaint here.
TRE and DRA represent two blind individuals, Angela Fowler and Miguel Mendez, who have been impacted by CDI and PSI’s discriminatory administration of the insurance exam. The National Federation of the Blind, the transformative civil rights and membership organization of blind Americans, is supporting its members in the litigation.
Last year Ms. Fowler, a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, was provisionally hired by an insurance carrier to become a sales agent, pending her obtaining a California insurance license. However, when she actually attempted to take the licensing exam she was unable to do so because the online exam system is not accessible to blind persons who use screen reading software.
Despite repeated requests from Ms. Fowler and the fact that California’s disability access laws require them to do so, CDI and PSI refused to affirmatively make the exam accessible. Instead, they stated that Ms. Fowler would need to engage in a burdensome accommodations-request process that included submission of her medical records before they would even consider allowing her to use a screen reader, a process which nondisabled applicants are not subject to. Ms. Fowler ended up being unable to take the insurance job she was provisionally hired for as a result of the delays she experienced in taking the exam in a format that is accessible to her.
Ms. Fowler states that “Blind people can take professional license exams on the same terms as sighted people if the underlying technology is accessible.”
TRE attorney Tim Elder said “Universally accessible online testing technology is legally required and enables many disabled people to integrate into an equal experience over the Internet without any need for special testing accommodations. These two prospective blind insurance agents simply want to use the same online testing system, at the same times, and with the same expectations as other examinees.”
Mark Riccobono, President of the national federation of the Blind, said: “Blind people cannot advance in our careers if licensure examinations and other employment tests are not accessible to us. This leads to lost opportunity and the inability to live the lives we want, and it violates the law. Online testing, if accessible, allows blind people to apply without additional accommodations or segregation from sighted applicants. We demand equal treatment of blind applicants, and we will not tolerate discrimination.”
This lawsuit aims to require CDI And PSI to ensure that its insurance exam is affirmatively accessible to all applicants including those who use screen readers, in accordance with California law.
About Disability Rights Advocates
Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit https://dralegal.org.
About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. Founded in 1940, the NFB is the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans with affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.