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Learning Disabilities and the ADA: Licensing Exam Accommodations in the Wake of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008

24 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2011 Last revised: 27 Mar 2013

M. Patrick Yingling

Reed Smith LLP

Date Written: November 28, 2011


The ADA was the first piece of federal legislation to guarantee accommodations on state licensing exams for individuals with learning disabilities. The ADA had the purpose of assuring “equality of opportunity” and the “elimination of discrimination” in regard to all individuals with disabilities. However, over the course of two decades, the courts steadily narrowed the ADA’s scope of protection. Individuals with learning disabilities who sought accommodations on licensing exams experienced the negative effects of these judicial interpretations. As a result, Congress took action to restore a “broad scope of protection” under the ADA by enacting the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”).

This Article argues that the courts must be cognizant of Congress’ intention to broaden the scope of the ADA, especially with regard to reading impaired individuals who request reasonable accommodations on licensing exams. Specifically, this Article suggests that (1) courts should no longer foreclose the finding of a substantially limiting impairment in regard to the major life activity of reading due to an individual’s academic success; (2) “working” should be recognized as an appropriate major life activity under which to evaluate claims for accommodations on the bar exam (and possibly other licensing exams), with such evaluations involving a comparison to most people having comparable training, skills, and abilities; and (3) reading disabilities should be recognized not only by psychometric tests that show a substantial limitation in comparison to most people, but also by test scores that indicate a significant discrepancy between an individual’s intellectual capacity and actual reading ability.

By following these recommendations, the courts will be able to evaluate future claims for accommodations on licensing exams with standards that reflect Congress’ intention to provide a broad scope of protection under the ADA.

Keywords: learning disability, learning disabilities, accommodations, ADA, ADAAA, licensing exam, dyslexia

Suggested Citation

Yingling, M. Patrick, Learning Disabilities and the ADA: Licensing Exam Accommodations in the Wake of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (November 28, 2011). Cleveland State Law Review, Vol. 59, pp. 291, 2011. Available at SSRN:

M. Patrick Yingling (Contact Author)

Reed Smith LLP ( email )

Chicago, IL
United States

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