Court Rules That U.S. Currency Discriminates Against The Blind

According to the AP, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that because all dollar bills are identical to the touch, it denies blind people “meaningful access” to the currency. For years, the American Council of the Blind has been going after the government to take action, but the government has always resisted. Details, inside…

The ruling upholds a lower court’s decision from 2006. The suggested changes include different size bills and raised markings. The government acknowledges the problem but also insists that the blind have sufficiently adapted by folding corners on bills, using automatic bill readers or by getting help from sighted people. Currently, over 100 countries make use of different size bills or have other features that help the blind.

Mitch Pomerantz, the president of the Council of the Blind said, “I don’t think we should have to rely on people to tell us what our money is.” Sam McClain, a blind man who manages a snack shop complains about automatic money readers, “It’s slow. Sometimes I have 10 or 15 people in here, and I can’t use it.” Aside from being slow, the money readers have also been known to have trouble reading the new $20 bills. He usually has to rely on the honesty of his customers.

Since some employers hesitate to hire blind workers because of the money recognition issue, redesigned bills could mean more job opportunities for blind people. “When there are so few things in your life that you’ve got total control over, being able to even take care of your own money is such a big step, without requiring someone to tell whether you’ve got enough money to go out and get a beer or have a hamburger,” said Kim Charlson of the Perkins School for the Blind.

Despite the governments resistance to a major money overhaul, they have actually been inching toward change to help the visually impaired. For example, a recent currency redesign for the $5 bill features a purple giant-sized 5 on one side to help people that have moderate vision impairment.

The treasury department has run into this issue in the past but had received resistance from the makers of vending and change machines citing that such changes would cost these companies billions to redesign their machines. However, one proposal is to leave $1 dollar bills unchanged, thus negating theses costs.

To make matters even more complicated, not all blind people agree that a change is needed. The National Federation of the Blind sided with the government and told the appeals court that no changes were needed.

If newly designed money can help people gain their independence then we think it should become a reality, despite the financial cost. We’re not design experts but couldn’t something could be added to currency to give it a tactile signature without breaking current change and vending machines? How would you go about changing money to help the visually impaired?

Court rules paper money unfair to blind [CNN]
Court: Paper money discriminates against the blind [AP]