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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Easy. Make $100 smell like good cocaine, make $20 smell like cocaine-and-baking-soda, make $10 smell like Northern Lights, and make $1 smell like ditch weed.

    Eliminate $5.

  2. consumersaur says:


    Is this really what we need to worry about as a society right now?

  3. AstroPig7 says:

    Because paper money changes hands so frequently, I can see raised markings being rubbed away or depressed fairly quickly. Bills of different sizes sound problematic to sort, though.

  4. B1663R says:

    about freaking time!

    Canadian money has had braille on it for years as well as bigger digits and bolder colours just for the blind and visually impared.

  5. HIV 2 Elway says:

    On another note, tittie bars have been found to also discriminate against the blind.

  6. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @consumersaur: Yes.

    They could have fixed this when they started updating all of the bills. I don’t understand why they’re resisting changing the bills when they changing the bill anyway.

  7. Parting says:

    @Ash78: Or just have braille stamped on the bill. It’s cheap, easy and many countries use it already. In Canada, it has been used for a while.

  8. silencedotcom says:

    @HIV 2 Elway: Very true!

    And nice picture, Jay. Not creepy enough to haunt me, but funny enough to save for later!

  9. thetango says:


    “I can see raised markings being rubbed away or depressed fairly quickly.”

    And this is why many countries (including the European Union) have moved to metal coins for $1/1EUR and $2/2EUR… and IIRC EUR has a 5 unit note?

    Let’s face it: The US gubamint thinks that we’re all yokels who won’t be able to figure out what different sized bills or coins mean.

    The same thing happened when (re-)introducing the US dollar coin — many people complained that it was too similar to the quarter.

    /the tango sighs …

  10. buzzybee says:

    @AstroPig7: I like the idea of holes punched in the bill. Reads like braille but can’t be rubbed off.

  11. Parting says:

    @Ash78: Also, every 20$ bill has traces of cocaine on itself already :) Just not enough to smell it with your nose (you can detect it with special machines, customs use these a lot).

  12. @AstroPig7: Bills of different sizes sound problematic to sort, though.

    I can’t think of any countries in Europe or Asia that don’t have different sized notes, so I assume sorting is not much an issue. Some of the smallest notes in India and Pakistan are physically smaller than monopoly money (and worth less than it, too!)

    I always just saw this as some kind of cost-saving measure that was basically unique to the US in the modern era. That, plus being so late with the multicoloration and fraud prevention.

  13. toastydoc says:

    Scratch -n Sniff.
    Strawberry 5’s
    Chocolate 10s
    Rootbeer 20s
    Vanilla 50s
    Lemon 100s

  14. @Victo: Interesting re: braille, didn’t know that. I was with the earlier comment that I thought they would simply wear down pretty quickly.

  15. Parting says:

    @thetango: You should see American tourists in Canada : “You didn’t give me all my change!” since they don’t understand that they are given 1$/2$ coins.

    A friend of mine works in a downtown ice-cream shop, he hears this phrase 50 times a day in the summer :)

    And some people even DEMAND 1$/2$ bills after explanation, those are asked to visit a museum (since he cannot just tell them to f@ck off ;)

  16. Parting says:

    @Ash78: Not really, I suppose they use some specific stamping method, which combined with bill’s texture is pretty much ”forever”. I’ve seen several washed up bills, and you can still feel braille (on the bill’s corner).

  17. Jozef says:

    Redesigning money may prove to be difficult for one simple reason: much fewer Americans use wallets to keep their money in. I personally use a paper clip, and variations of money clips, rubber bands or nothing are pretty common in the US. Keeping money bills in a bunch is facilitated by their uniform size and the material, which is more a fabric than paper. This prevents the frayed edges and torn off corners many of my bills suffer in Europe in as little as a week in my pocket.

    To redesign the US bills for the blind, we’d either need different sized bills and different material, which would hold the braille indentation. That, in turn, would require Americans to change their habits and carry bills in wallets. And as we all know, changing one’s habit may be more difficult than marketing bionic eyes for the blind.

  18. Anonymous says:

    While I understand the frustration the blind feel when facing something like this, I can’t help but think that we can’t spend billions and billions of dollars to make someone with a disability feel better. If paper money discriminates, so do driver’s licenses, and bookstores, and television… there’s really no end to it.

    It’s like something our city is dealing with. Because of the ADA act, they are having to go through the entire city and put sloped ramps at each corner of every intersection. That costs $2,000 for every intersection. There are something like 20,000 intersections in the city. Does it really make sense to spend $40 Million dollars because someone in a wheelchair MIGHT use this particular sidewalk?

    The cost isn’t just changing the paper money. For instance, if they make the size of the bill variable based on the value of the bill, think of all the changes that will need to take place. You will have made EVERY automatic vending machine in the country somewhat worthless(assuming the $1 bill stays the same and all others change). Not to mention every cash register drawer, and most wallets couldn’t accomodate much larger bills.

    I just think we need to be realistic.

  19. asujosh1 says:

    After travelling abroad I can say that the different sized bills are prety handy, even if you don’t have a wallet, use a money clip, etc. It makes it so that you can leave the large bills in your pocket and only pull out the one you need. You don’t have to advertise that $100 bill Playa!

  20. keith4298 says:

    How about the Australian ‘rubber’ money. Also, holes (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) indicating amounts would work.

  21. whatdoyoucare says:

    “He [Sam McClain] usually has to rely on the honesty of his customers.” Personally, after reading what some people try to get away with, I wouldn’t want to rely on my customers to make sure I wasn’t getting screwed.

    It seems to me that money with braille imprinted on it would be harder to counterfeit.

  22. keith4298 says:

    @CaptainCynic: If paper money discriminates, so do driver’s licenses, and bookstores, and television… there’s really no end to it.

    A society is judged by how it treats the weakest among us. As much as I am a fiscal tight-ass, I understand that this isn’t simply a luxury for the blind. How would you feel if they said your kid couldn’t get special ed classes because only x % of the pop. needs them and it’s not economically warranted.

  23. SkokieGuy says:

    Yeah, we got bigger problems right now, but how many times has our paper currency been designed already? Each time costs lots of taxpayer money as well as affecting all the vending machine companies that must reprogram their readers.

    Different size bills seems easy (leaving the $1.00 bill size unchanged to make many bill readers still usable).

    Alternately, the corners or edges of the bill could be notched or cut. The fewest cuts is the highest denomination bil, so one could not cut a low denomination bill to mimick a higher denomination.

    Access to currency seems pretty darn basic, and a lot more logical than putting braile on drive through ATM’s which seems to be universal.

  24. jamar0303 says:

    @CaptainCynic: Vending machines should be able to take differently-sized bills just fine with the slot the same size as the largest bill it’s meant to accept.

  25. forgottenpassword says:

    how the hell did the blind tell bills apart in the past?

    Quite frankly I am tired of bills changing….ESPECIALLY the new colors, the offset & large portraits.

    The old designs (10+ years ago) had a certian dignity to them. Unwavering, solid, no fruity colors…. just green & dark green.

    Yeah yeah yeah, the changes are safeguards against counterfeiting. But now they look idiotic.

  26. bonzombiekitty says:

    @CaptainCynic: This isn’t about making people “feel better”. It’s about the government distributing a currency that can be used effectively by the blind without having to worry about getting scammed.

    In regards to the sidewalk, yes it is worth that money. Not because someone in a wheel chair might use the sidewalk. But because someone in a wheel chair WILL use the sidewalk. Probably more often than you think they do. How’d you like if you were in a wheel chair and couldn’t leave your block without a person helping you because you can’t get over the curb?

  27. nedzeppelin says:

    @thetango: yeah but who wants to carry around pockets full of 1 and 2 dollar coins?? it’s bad enough carrying around the change we have now

  28. bonzombiekitty says:

    @SkokieGuy: To be fair braille on drive through ATMs is probably because braille is put on all ATMs by default. That ATM could be installed next to a sidewalk, or in a drive-thru.

  29. unohoo says:

    @buzzybee: says–“I like the idea of holes punched in the bill.” I agree. It seems like a practical solution.

  30. Anonymous says:

    There was bound to be a downside to being blind.

  31. TWinter says:

    This is really a no brainer.

    Other countries use different sizes, braille markings, and bright colors to make it easier for the blind and the old. And most of us will get some vision problems when we are old. If dozens of other countries do this with no problems, why can’t we?

    Paper currency doesn’t last very long anyway, they are always putting new bills into circulation and removing worn ones, this would not be amazingly difficult to implement if organized properly and phased in over time.

  32. Jozef: So you’re saying you’re not as smart or adaptable as a European?

    As the dad of a kid with a vision disability, this is welcome news. And it’s not like teh rest of the world hasn’t already figured this out. We’re just late to the party. Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel? mOre than 100 countries use currency of different sizes and colors to note difference in denomination. What’s so hard about this?

  33. @CaptainCynic: You know who else said, “Screw the handicapped?” Of course, his solution tended to be a bit more, well, final.

    Hey, SOMEONE had to Godwin this thread.

  34. forgottenpassword says:


    Wouldnt those holes make a bill degrade even faster? I heard the average dollar bill lasts approx 2 years or so before it has to be destroyed. Here’s an idea. 1,5,10,20 dollar coins…. they would last for 20+ years in circulation & mostly the blind could use them as most people HATE the idea of large denomination coins.

  35. TMMadman says:


    City Hall in Chicago has a small candy shop that is run exclusively by blind people if I remember correctly. I am not the most scrupulous person in the world, but I would have never dreamed of screwing with the person behind the counter. It just seems….wrong. Way too wrong.

  36. Kajj says:

    @SkokieGuy: I like the notch idea. What I’m picturing is something like sawteeth on one of the short ends of the bill. If you put the un-notched end into the vending machine first it should still read just fine, no modifications necessary.

  37. naosuke says:

    Why not just use a credit/debit card only. You will always pay the exact right amount, they have raised numbers and a lot of times it is faster to run a card through a machine then to count out change. Wasn’t there just an article recently about how it is perfectly legal to not accept cash? That would take care of the shop owner not having to trust his customers (and I wouldn’t trust my customers in that case). I am all for letting the blind participate economically, but when it will cost billions to retrofit everything and there is an easy alternative I don’t see that it makes sense to. That being said I think that vending machines and just about everything else should be modified to accept a card. This will not only help the blind but also people who don’t have any cash on them.

  38. balthisar says:

    @bonzombiekitty: It makes more economic sense to redesign wheelchairs. No, I’m not nuts; it’s feasible and would certainly be cheaper than modifying the entire infrastructure of the USA, even if it had to be subsidized.

    While I don’t see an overwhelming need to change the currency to placate a minority, I don’t have any real objections to it, either. It shouldn’t be costly for the mints to change, and the free market will take care of things like tills, money machines, etc.

  39. Jozef says:

    @BaysideWrestling: Actually, I’m originally from Europe, and still holding an EU passport. That doesn’t preclude me from liking US money designs and the usability of US bills better, though.

    (To be honest, however, I’m a little biased by the fact that in Europe stores have the right – ant they often use it – to refuse any damaged bills, and banks will change them for new ones only for a fee.)

  40. buzzybee says:

    @CaptainCynic: Wow. The whole point of the ADA and the reason we have it is to make accommodations for people with disabilities so that they are not inadvertently discriminated against and they can live a semi-normal life.

    How else would people with wheelchairs get around your city?

  41. lincolnparadox says:

    @toastydoc: You are a genius! Man, I would love scratch’n’sniff money.

    There is some validity to “equal access to currency.” There are currently there are anywhere from 3 to 15 million blind people in the US (depending upon your definition of “blind.” That’s 1-5% of the population of the US. Adding a plastic or metal strip to our currency to accommodate these citizens seems like the right thing to do.

  42. delphi_ote says:

    This makes you “groan”? Are you THAT selfish?! This has been a problem for years, the solution is simple, and it would help a lot of people! Why can’t we stop for just a few minutes and take into account small changes to our behavior that would help disabled people tremendously?

    I’m completely disgusted to be a part of the same species as you.

  43. Trai_Dep says:

    I admittedly veer far towards the accommodation side on issues like this. And even I think this is a bit absurd.
    Like the idea of nuking the penny and $1 & $5 bills, though, replacing the latter two with coins. If the Repubs insist on putting Mr. Iran/Contra on one of ’em (and gods know they’ll whine about it incessantly), then put Bubba on the other – just to irk them.

  44. I’ve been living in Europe for the past year, and there is no problem with different sized bills. The US should have dropped the $1 bill decades ago, and left the $2 as the smallest bill. Most vending machines already take the $1 coin, so that won’t be a problem. They (vending industry) can’t quit their bitching before it even starts, with all the money they steal as it is they can afford any change.

    I carry my money in a clip here, and having different sized bills is no problem, unless I’m carrying 100 or 500 euro bills, which is almost never and never respectively. Americans need to grow up and realize that they can handle money in different sizes and colors. Its not the end of the world if you all of sudden have to change something. Change is good. Idiots.

  45. bbagdan says:

    To the blind?!

    It is hard to differentiate the denominations of boring US currency by persons with perfect vision!

    Most countries currencies are tutti frutti compared to greenbacks.

  46. Buran says:

    @consumersaur: I can tell you’ve never been forced to deal with a disability. Spend a day with earplugs in, or in a wheelchair, or on crutches, and see how much fun it is.

    It is ALWAYS time for this stuff.

  47. forgottenpassword says:


    you say boring… i say dignified.

  48. Buran says:

    @forgottenpassword: They couldn’t. That’s the whole point of this lawsuit. Read the stories; they had to depend on the honesty of other people for help. And a cashier could lie and say “This one”, get a $20 when the bill was really $10, and pocket the difference.

    The government had lots of opportunities to change things, especially with the recent redesigns, failed to, whined that it shouldn’t have to, and got smacked down. The government isn’t exempted from the ADA any more than the local grocery store is. If the accomodation is reasonable, whining won’t get you out of it.

    The court ruled that implementing help for the blind wasn’t unreasaonable given how much has been spent redesigning and producing money in the first place, so now the feds get to pay more when they could have just implemented the changes in the first place.

    It’s like a store not installing a wheelchair ramp or automatic door, whining about the cost, getting told that the cost isn’t unreasonable, and having to pay for the original door AND the new automatic one when it could have installed the automatic one in the first place and saved the cost of the original door.

    (I’m disabled and hard of hearing, so I’m sensitive to these issues and I am very in favor of a redesign being forced as I know how frustrating it is to deal with my own issues and the lack of accomodation for them).

  49. Buran says:

    @buzzybee: Exactly. It doesn’t cost that much to put the ramps in and for new construction, they’re put in at build time. It’s not a big deal.

    Plus, those ramps don’t just help wheelchair users. I’ve used them to get suitcases over curbs before (my disability is just my hearing, I’m physically OK) and the ramps are useful for getting suitcases up stairs, too, plus the wider doors/aisles/bathroom stalls/etc. designed to accomodate wheelchairs make things a lot simpler for the general public in other ways.

    For instance, try putting your carryon suitcase with you in one of those tiny airport bathroom stalls. It’s literally hard to turn around in there — unless you make sure no one with a wheelchair is waiting, and use the larger wheelchair stall.

  50. AngryEwok says:

    I had to pay for something after getting my eyes dilated, yesterday. I couldn’t figure out which dollar bills I was holding, so I handed her my credit card – which turned out to be a business card.

    It’s really frustrating to have to rely on other people to be honest with you… something should be done to accommodate the blind.

  51. CMU_Bueller says:

    @CaptainCynic: I hate to be an asshole, but I just got this really strong urge to break your legs and put a fork through your eyes.

  52. crackblind says:

    Of course the National Federation for the Blind would be against a change. They sell a device that can be used to read the bills:


  53. dregina says:

    “Does it really make sense to spend $40 Million dollars because someone in a wheelchair MIGHT use this particular sidewalk?”

    Yes. It’s a safe bet that we’re all going to be disabled at some point – either temporarily, or due to old age. Even if you live a perfectly able bodied life from cradle to grave, someone you love and care about will need that sloped ramp. My Dad was a 240 mile a week cyclist who became incredibly disabled due to a multiple myeloma (a blood/bone cancer) diagnosis. Accomodations like sloped sidewalks made it possible for him to get around during the worst part of his illness. Which meant he was able to stay in his own home and take care of himself, instead of becoming so housebound that he would have had to move in with one of his kids (we wouldn’t have minded, but he would have) or worse, a nursing home. Wouldn’t you want the same if you were to be permanently or temporarily disabled?

  54. christoj879 says:

    How about just changing the length of the bills? Then no big redesign of wallets/cash drawers/machines will be necessary. That would probably be harder to tell for a blind person, but if See No Evil, Hear No Evil taught me anything, it’s that blind people have pretty amazing senses.

  55. Truthie says:

    More importantly, doesn’t money discriminate against the poor?

    (That problem will be more difficult to solve, though, I’m afraid.)

  56. BStu says:

    Here is the thing. This has been on the radar screen for a while now. And if we hadn’t been redesigning our bills with regularity, I might at least understand the “but we’d have to redesign the bills!” argument. But the Treasury keeps redesigning the bills. They keep doing this themselves, so why is it a hassle to do it for blind people? Frankly, they’ve had a habit of screwing up money readers anyway. Why couldn’t they have rolled this out back then? Do it incrementally and keep the money reading industry fully informed so they could phase in new hardware. Its not like those machines last forever, either. They get replaced regularly. This was just not a priority for the government. Not in the current administration or the last. Well, it should have. And if they did this in the first place, then they wouldn’t have gotten sued and it wouldn’t have cost much more. THEY could have planned a roll-out that managed expense and inconvenience. But they didn’t do that, so I find it hard to be sympathetic to their complaints that it will cost money to change. Sure, when you didn’t plan for it properly, it will cost money. But that’s only because they didn’t plan for it. That’s hardly a legal argument. If the best they can do is “it’ll cost money”, then they have no case. It wouldn’t have cost much if they did it in the first place and their failure to do that is the issue.

  57. ptkdude says:

    The vending machine industry really needs to give up on their anti-new currency/anti-dollar and $2 coin whining. The didn’t have a problem converting their machines to accept dollar bills a few years ago, and they don’t seem to have a problem adding credit card readers to them now. I mean, if they can attach a credit card reader to a USA Today newspaper box (which they have), they can set their machines to accept anything, even NECCO wafers.

  58. shockwaver says:

    @toastydoc: Braille on canadian money? I may not pay too close attention to it.. but I’m looking at a 5 and a 20 in my wallet, and I can feel no braille..

    @nedzeppelin: Scratch and sniff money? But what about people that can’t smell and that are blind?!?!?

  59. shockwaver says:

    Oh, and I’m an american that has moved to Canada. And I love the 1 and 2 dollar coins. It’s easier to save by putting in a jar or something, plus, if you have a pocketful of change, you may actually have like $10, instead of the $1.49 you’d have in the US. It’s easier to use them in vending machines too.

  60. Buran says:

    @AngryEwok: When I went in for an eye exam I got that done, and after waiting the 15 minutes for the drops to take effect (during which I was noticing increasing problems trying to read the magazine I was holding) I looked in the mirror, went “Ack!” and the doctor laughed and said “Looks creepy, doesn’t it?”

    Normally, without my glasses I can see fine up close to read, but it was a little frightening how easily one might lose just enough vision to require some help seeing what’s what.

  61. Zephyr7 says:

    It’s hard to understand why they made the 5 on the $5 bill big and purple, but didn’t bother to add a texture at the same time.

  62. thufir_hawat says:

    I went and read the decision and the dissent and the decision is pretty bad.

    The Rehabilitation Act and other disabled-rights laws guarantee only “meaningful access,” not “perfectly equal access.” Blind individuals have that meaningful access through, for example, credit and debit cards, which reduce the risk of fraudulent merchants.

    The second problem is the lack of consideration given to the expense of the redesign, an expense that falls on merchants, vending machine operators, and other third parties (and, in turn, to you). This, even though other courts recognize that an institution is not required to accommodate a disability or religious practice if doing so would unduly burden third parties. As Judge Randolph notes in dissent, “[t]here are approximately 7,000,000 food and beverage vending machines in the United States; by one estimate, it would cost $3.5 billion to retool or replace these machines.” That does not take into account non food and beverage vending, ATMs, cash registers and drawers, etc. Finally, the government cited counterfeiting and other concerns that make redesigning paper money risky and costly.

    The decision is also problematic in that trial court only ruled that paper money violates the law; he did not order any particular remedy. As a result, as pointed out by the dissent, the appeals court improperly went beyond the very ruling it purported to uphold by rejecting, out of hand, any “undue burden” objection by the government to particular requests by the plaintiff, regardless of whatever facts come to light in further trial court proceedings.

    Interestingly, the National Federation of the Blind opposed the ruling, fearing that it will reinforce stereotypes employers have of blind people being unable to function in society or perform everyday tasks.

    It’s an unfortunate, overreaching decision.

  63. ThirstyEar2 says:

    @naosuke: Agreed!

  64. HalOfBorg says:

    Do you know how bill acceptors work? They ‘read’ the bill optically, and also ‘listen’ to the bill with a magnetic head just like in a cassette player. There are also sensors for checking the length of the bill.

    The bill has to be in just the perfect position (side to side ways) to be read correctly, so these bills would have to be the same WIDTH, but could be different lengths.

    Or you need a whole new type of acceptor. Perhaps they have those now though.

  65. DrGirlfriend says:

    Anyone remember George Carlin’s short-lived sitcom back in the 90’s? He played a cabbie, and in one episode he realized he could scam blind people by giving them incorrect change. How would they know, right? Then he got busted by an undercover reporter and saw the error if his ways.

    In any case, I agree with one of the comments above that says a country is judged by how it treats its weakest citizens. Sometimes I think this country (the US) has to be dragged kicking and screaming into changing anything for the benefit of people with any kind of disadvantage, because, OMG, CHANGE! And if this change costs money, then it’s even worse. What makes this most confounding is, as was mentioned already as well, that we have redesigned currency a few times in recent memory. So what is the big friggin’ deal with helping out the blind on this? Why is this even a problem?

  66. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Others have made reference to the ADA, but this seems a lot cheaper than many ADA costs.

    As for the redesigning wheelchairs instead of the infrastructure, it has almost been done. The iBot chair is capable of handling curbs and stairs, but narrow door frames are still an issue. Not to mention needing a van with a ramp or lift.

    Standard chairs are light (often less than 20 lbs) and reliable. Nothing redesigned is going to provide the same level of access and independence. Allowing wheelchair users access to a sedan is pretty important with today’s gas prices.

    As for the $40,000,000, I call BS. The ADA doesn’t require cities to go back in to each intersection, but to do it over time as they make other changes. if you are repaving an intersection or building a new one, it doesn’t add $2000.

  67. LUV2CattleCall says:

    On another note, tittie bars have been found to also discriminate against the blind.
    @HIV 2 Elway:

    Except when it’s cold, they you have braile.

  68. consumersaur says:

    @delphi_ote: Yep it makes me groan. It’s a minor issue to a minority of people.

    But, hey – I’m pragmatic. I want the rickety bridge repaired before tiny potholes are filled. Meth labs busted before pot smokers. Murderers given police priority instead of parking tickets, etc.

    Now: I have no idea why they didn’t change them last time they redesigned the bills, and if they are already going to redesign them, sure, they should go ahead and change them to help out blind people – that seems reasonable.

    @Buran: Oh give me a break. Everyone has, or will have, a disabled friend, co-worker or family member or has some experience with hardships. But most of us adapt, deal, adjust and hope the courts spend time on issues that might really affect lives of others.

  69. Wheels17 says:

    I think there’s an easy way, with some precedent. Sheet film has to be identified in the dark, and there are notches cut into the film that allow the user to determine the side and type of film based on the notches. See []

    If the largest denomination had one notch cut in the end of the bills, and then each successively smaller denomination had increasing numbers or sizes of notches, you could determine the size of bill based on the notches. Cutting new notches wouldn’t be worthwhile, as it would make a larger bill seem smaller when returning change to the visually impaired. The bills wouldn’t be any thicker, and optical readers could still read the bills.

    Something would have to be worked out during the transition period to deal with notching of old bills. Maybe an embedded plastic in the edge of the bill. This could be felt to ensure that it was the new notched type. It would make the notches more durable as well.

  70. bobpence says:

    In my travels in Europe and Asia, I have repeatedly been impressed by how much more we Americans have done to accommodate our disabled fellow citizens — even things that were common prior to the ADA — that were not done over there, at least in the specific places I saw.

  71. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    It becomes a problem when it forces all of society to change for a very small group, not matter how well intentioned the change may seem.
    It’s called an unfunded mandate, something that requires everyone to change something at their own cost because a law was passed, but the government that passes the law doesn’t pay for the change.
    Just think what will happen to all the cash register drawers if all the denominations are a different size.
    Have you forgotten that there was a guy in California that kept suing restaurants that didn’t have a ramped entrance. Even though the law said there were other ways of getting him into the building, including having a couple of very strong guys just lift the chair up a few steps. He would sue instantly without giving the restaurant a chance to get him in there.

    The sidewalk ramps aren’t the worst idea, except when the sewer is clogged & the rain doesn’t drain away & you can’t cross the street.
    Or worse, here in Chicago, the billions that the ADA law has forced the Chicago Transit Authority to put elevators into 60 year old subway stations.
    Few people in wheelchairs ever ride the L. And apparently everyone forgot that that thing called snow in Chicago in winter & hardly anyone shovels it. And definitely includes the city itself, which has the snow plows pile up the snow & crosswalks & nobody can cross the street, let alone someone in a wheelchair.
    That’s money that would have gone for basic maintenance which would have made the system work better for everyone else.

    There’s a reason it’s called mass transit.
    It would have been cheaper to buy every wheelchair user in the country their own vehicle with a lift than the money all the transit agencies are spending on this.

  72. gmark2000 says:

    Remember only the U.S., Myanmar and Liberia haven’t adopted the Metric system.

    Americans are backwards in many ways than monetary design.

  73. tiatrack says:

    “If paper money discriminates, so do driver’s licenses, and bookstores, and television… there’s really no end to it.”

    Actually, we address these things already. Instead of a driver’s license, blind people have government issued ID card. Bookstores carry books on tape, and the blind agencies loan out books on tape for free, and TV has SOUND!

    My grandmother is blind and folds her money after my mom gets it from the ATM for her, or she asks the cashier what the denominations are that she is getting back. It would be fantastic for her, since she lives alone, if there was an easier way.

  74. ThirstyEar2 says:

    I understand that the government is redesigning money all the time, but what about the new machines that would have to be incorporated to add a texture or holes or other physical aspect to the money? Not only would the the bill redesign cost money, but the new machines as well.

  75. Thanatos- says:

    What about putting a barcode on all bills, and updating the bill reader. Would be faster than the bill readers they have now. No brail or any other fancy lengths required. This would also help vending machines. And somewhat unrelated, ive said it for years we need to get rid of the penny, it isnt even worth the materials used to make it.

  76. Anonymous says:

    Wow, I didn’t really expect ad hominem attacks and threats to break my legs.

    I think you guys are missing the point I’ve been trying to make. The point is that NO ammount of money will be able to fully compensate for someone lacking sight. There will never be an end to the percieved ‘discrimination’.

    While there are inconveniences and challenges to anyone with a disability, throwing billions of dollars at it isn’t going to change the fact that there will always be inconveniences and challenges.

    I don’t have a problem with making accomodations and planning for ways in the future to make it easier for those without sight, we just have to be realistic.

    But then, I’m sure most of those who disagree with me will just write me off as a right-wing a-hole.

    oh, and the whole… ‘society is judged by… blah, blah, blah’ Save the rhetoric. The statement doesn’t even make sense.

  77. Zephyr7 says:

    An improvement that costs money? Madness!

    “Currently, over 100 countries make use of different size bills or have other features that help the blind.”
    I guess this countries “just do it” mentality only applies sometimes…

  78. chrisjames says:

    I don’t get it. What novel changes can they make to bills that make it easier for the blind? Talk about false sense of security. So you don’t want to take the time to put your bills through authentication? Ok, fair enough, I’ll just find a way to alter the bills so that one feels like a twenty to you. All that time and money you saved by not authenticating the bills can be better spent on explaining to the bank why you’re trying to deposit monopoly money.

    I love this quote, it’s a decent example of pop consumer mentality: “I don’t think we should have to rely on people to tell us what our money is.” No, you shouldn’t have to. But, unfortunately, you’re blind and you really don’t have a choice. Someone or something is going to have to tell you that what you’re holding is or is not what you think it is. Even us sighted people put up with that from time to time.

  79. Zephyr7 says:

    @chrisjames: “Even us sighted people put up with that from time to time.” Sure, but doesn’t everyone try minimize that dependency, the amount of things they have to put up with? Here’s an opportunity to make that possible.

  80. horned_frog says:

    Who uses cash anymore these days? :P

  81. WhirlyBird says:

    Just like TTY devices for phones, and Braille books, and guide dogs, etc., the gubmint needs to develop reliable bill-readers for the extremely tiny minority of people who can’t see money. There’s no reason to make everyone miserable for the sake of the few, and there’s no reason why technology can’t make this a non-problem.

  82. P_Smith says:

    They couldn’t see that one coming, could they? {ba-dum-BAM!}

    Kidding aside, the British bills of different size sound good but may not be practical, especially with vending machines. What would work and could transfer from other countries are Canada’s foil on the paper, or plastic sections on some European currency.

    Both can be felt by hand and would make the blind independent of machines, as well as not require costly things like raised lettering. The US mint has been against those devices not because of counterfeiting (foil and plastic are excellent at preventing counterfeits), but because of one reason: neither feature can survive the “crush” test that the US mint says paper currencies must survive. Maybe it’s time to relax that rule.

    This is another good reason to go to coins and drop smaller bills. The US should do as Canada does, putting one and two dollar coins into (wider) circulation. There would be no mistaking those coins by the blind, and they would last longer and cost less. Maybe this lawsuit will be the impetus that finally makes it happen.

  83. bonzombiekitty says:

    @chrisjames: If you have a good design, you won’t be able to alter the bill so that it feels the same as a higher denomination. At least not with any sort of ease.

    Money has a distinct feel that is hard to copy. So you can’t just cut pieces of paper to the appropriate size to fool a blind person. Then add in other things like embedded foil or raised surfaces, then that’s even harder to reproduce the proper feel of. Other safety measures, such as putting a notch in the paper, where the highest bill has a single notch and lower bills have more notches, would make adding notches disadvantageous to the person trying to scam the blind person.

    This is not to mention that trying to trick a blind person by giving them incorrect denominations is in the vast majority of cases going to be a crime of opportunity in which you aren’t going to have enough time to try and alter the bill.

  84. bonzombiekitty says:

    @WhirlyBird: I don’t get how altering the look & feel of cash is making things miserable for everyone at the expense of a few.

  85. P_Smith says:

    I should have added: having different sized and placed foil or plastic sections on bills would enable people to differentiate them by feel alone.

  86. bonzombiekitty says:

    @bonzombiekitty: oops I meant “…everyone for the benefit of a few”

  87. Zephyr7 says:

    @WhirlyBird: I wouldn’t call close to a million Americans “an extremely tiny minority”.

  88. Orv says:

    We really need to eliminate the $1 bill and just go with dollar coins. That would eliminate 99% of the vending machine problems right off the bat. Those dollar bill acceptors never work unless the bill is brand new anyway. Just the reduction in stress caused by people repeatedly trying to feed a vending machine the same bill over and over again would be worth the cost. ;)

  89. SkokieGuy says:

    Do ya’ think that there might just be vending machines in at least a few of the 100 other countries that have already made changes to their currency to accomodate the visually impaired?

  90. Buran says:

    @consumersaur: No, you’re not getting a break. Selfishness to the point where you actually start WHINING about HELPING OTHER HUMAN BEINGS does not get any such courtesy.

  91. AngryEwok says:

    I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone for about four hours. Their faces were so distorted that it both freaked me out and made me absolutely nauseous. Terrible experience!

  92. Buran says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I don’t think wheelchair users should have to depend on “a couple of strong guys”. What if no one’s around to help? And that’s just plain undignified.

    Besides, if you don’t put in a ramp these days you’re just asking for trouble considering how many places have already been forced to do it.

  93. TMurphy says:

    I think they should make the money have fine differences in texture, so that only people who are used to relying on tactile observation (blind people) know what the denomination is. There will be no visual cues as to its value, so everyone will have to trust the blind people to tell them what their money is worth :D

  94. reznicek111 says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    Or worse, here in Chicago, the billions that the ADA law has forced the Chicago Transit Authority to put elevators into 60 year old subway stations. Few people in wheelchairs ever ride the L.

    Wheelchair users aren’t the only people who benefit from having elevators in transit stations. Anyone who has luggage, a large parcels, a bike or stroller, or even a temporary disability like a broken leg finds them very helpful, if not indispensable.

  95. Buran says:

    @AngryEwok: I didn’t have it quite that bad, but as a bookworm I was really bothered by the fact that I suddenly couldn’t read!

  96. jusooho says:


    “Remember only the U.S., Myanmar and Liberia haven’t adopted the Metric system.

    Americans are backwards in many ways than monetary design.”

    I thought its pretty amazing they made it to the Moon several times with the English measurments. How can such a measuring system be backward?

  97. Orv says:

    @reznicek111: And public transportation is often the only transportation disabled people can rely on. Many of them can’t drive, and most taxi companies don’t offer wheelchair-lift-equipped vans.

  98. Orv says:

    @jusooho: Most science is done in metric, even in the U.S. NASA did lose a probe once due to an incorrect conversion between metric and English units, though. And the Canadians almost lost an airliner that way in 1983 (google “gimli glider” if you’re curious.)

  99. chrisjames says:

    @Zephyr7: You’re right, and that’s what my first question addresses. What change could they make to minimize this dependency?

    Printing different sized bills sounds like a great deal for blind people, but it’s really shifting the dependency from people or devices, which have a measure of security to the blind person, to shapes and textures, which are easily reproducible. There’s no reason to trust that the triangle you’ve been handed is a $20 triangle. As a thought experiment, how do you tell, without using your own eyes, that an object handed to you is U.S. currency and not blank paper if the difference is only in the appearance? Where do these people think they will get with a ruling that doesn’t address this principle?

    They are trying to do away with surrogate eyes in a system that requires eyesight, and without proposing alternative changes to the system itself. Any other claims are claims of inconvenience, which is not discrimination.

  100. YokoDadlet says:

    One simple change would help – plastic overlay of the denomination on one side of the bill. Many other countries’ currency already employs plastic on their bills, form holograms on top to the bill’s material itself. We could keep our money the same as it is, while simply pressing a shiny (and smooth to the touch) plastic 5, 10, or whatever into the surface.

  101. stuny says:

    You know those greeting cards with music chips built in? Each denomination could have the voice of it’s dead president announcing the dollar value and maybe explaining the historical significance of whatever monument is on the back of the bill.

    That would solve the problem for blind people and make it fun to try to sleep while your wallet is yammering all night!

  102. Mary says:

    Personally, I’m completely against anything that involves heavier bulk to my cash, which means that getting rid of $1 bills in the face of coins is something I’m just not for. I have enough issues finding a wallet that isn’t ten inches thick and can hold even a small amount of change. Right now I can fit about two quarters and a dime in my wallet.

    While I’m fine with brighter colors and color differences in currency, I think different sizes would cause more trouble than it would solve, in the end.

    If there are ways to change the texture (as people have mentioned, braille, notches, plastics, foil, etc) then I don’t see why this is causing so much debate and anger. I don’t care if my bills have braille, what would that change in my life? Nothing. What would that change in vending machines? Likely nothing in the end. What would it change for the blind? Everything.

    But different sized bills, a switch to coins, and things of that nature would help some to the detriment and cost of others, and how does that really make it balance out in the end?

    Also, I’m surprised that this is such a contentious issue now and not twenty years ago. I would have thought that the blind would have long since started using credit/debit whenever possible. But I guess we’re not as close to a cashless society as it seems sometimes.

  103. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    @CaptainCynic: Your bill does not need to grow larger, just use that as the largest one as a basic template, the others can be slightly smaller and is it.
    The vending machine will still take them and the recognition systems must machines use need not change.

    That is the easiest change to address that complaint, albeit a little over simplified.

  104. Empire says:

    @SkokieGuy: I was just getting ready to wonder at the majesty of our great country, the only country in the entire world that has vending machines.

  105. defectivesealion says:

    When I went to France I discovered how amazing the euro is. I love the use of $1 and $2 coins, they were very handy, and the weight never became an issue. I also preferred the colors and designs over boring green on green money we have here. That kind of currency is shown to be an improvement in many areas US money falls short in. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal to make a gradual change. They’re already constantly redesigning the money. The changes incurred through adding braille or notches or anything like that would not be that big of an issue.

    A million people may be a minority, but that’s still a lot of people. Besides, wasn’t one of the founder’s principles preventing the majority from depriving the minority of their rights. It seems our country has recently forgotten that. This is hardly a small inconvenience for a small minority. It is a huge problem for over one million people.

  106. defectivesealion says:

    I prefer the US measurement system a lot. I’ve always had to used metric in most of my classes (or rather the S.I. system), but 5 feet means a lot more in my head than 1.5 meters. Yes, that’s because that’s what I was raised to think in, but it just makes more sense in the real world. The metric system is easy and logical, but the system of weight is based on a piece of metal in a vault (the kilogram), and a gram is just too small to picture.

  107. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    I know that others use the elevators, but the cost of them is destroying the CTA’s ability to operate as it’s sucking up an enormous chunk of money that the feds aren’t compensating for, even though they require it.

    If the feds mandate something to a local non-federal agency, then the feds should pay for it.

  108. DaoKaioshin says:

    guys this isn’t about the small sector of people who are born blind

    this is about the likely eventuality for most americans: that they will grow old and their vision will accordingly fade

  109. thetango says:


    Canadians seemed to figure it out. EUR seemed to figure it out.

    But thanks for proving my point: Americans are just too stupid to figure out $1 and $2 coins.

  110. @thetango: “The US gubamint thinks that we’re all yokels who won’t be able to figure out what different sized bills or coins mean.”

    I think it’s actually that people resist it. I hate the idea of all-different-sized-and-colored money, and, yes, I’ve traveled abroad and yes I’ve used pretty-colored, multi-sized money, but a greenback’s a greenback world without end amen.

    It would be absolutely moronic for me to insist on same size/same color for pretty when the disabled need different sizes and colors for functioning, but there’s a big difference, to me, between seeing a nice pretty stack of uniform greenbacks and a big stack of all different sizes and colors stickin’ out all crazy every which way. :P That’s a psychological hurdle.

  111. SweetBearCub says:

    @CaptainCynic: I’d like to add some perspective to CaptainCynic’s comment that curb cuts aren’t necessary since wheelchairs user might not use them enough to justify their cost.

    I am in a wheelchair. It’s a power wheelchair that can climb & descend curbs up to 3 inches high, so I’m lucky. Many people in wheelchairs use ones that are manual or that cannot climb curbs at all.

    The suspension system that enables my chair to safely traverse obstacles is not cheap, and unfortunately, it cannot be retrofitted onto existing chairs – It must be designed into them by the engineers.

    Since cities must cater to the lowest common denominator, that means that they must make the curbs accessible to people in manual wheelchairs.You may not like the expense, but would you rather have PWD going out and living their life in a reasonably easy fashion, or would you rather pay the cost (in taxes) of an aide for all wheelchair users?

    I assure you, and aide would cost far more than some curb cuts.

    You also forget that the curb cuts benefit you when you are pushing a stroller, pulling a cart, rolling luggage, etc. People seem to forget those things.

    CaptainCynic – Be very glad that you are not confined to a wheelchair. I doubt you would survive if you were.

  112. consumersaur says:

    @Buran: “Help” is free, or nearly so… like reaching a hand out to pull a puppy out of a gutter or to open a door for someone. We’re talking “assistance” which includes a “redesign” of our money which is expensive.

    I’d rather devote the money to finding clever ways to make sure blind folks won’t be able to discern between a worthless tanking US $20 or a worthless tanking US $50.

  113. HeartBurnKid says:

    @consumersaur: You know, everybody cites the “expense” of the idea… we’ve already been redesigning our currency every few years anyway. Why can we not simply incorporate some of these ideas into the next redesign?

  114. ShadowFalls says:

    It would be essentially cheaper to issue money scanning devices to the blind than for them to fix “all’ the currency.

    But, as mentioned, this should have been taken into consideration when they reissued the currency. They could have had a raised surface to identify it to the blind.

  115. Super_Kitten says:


    Are you really against everything that allows the handicapped to lead slightly more normal, better lives? How would YOU feel if you couldn’t go to a lot of places, or use money by yourself. It costs money to help certain portions of the population, but I think it’s quite worth it.

    Money is a necessary item we NEED to use in daily life all the time. It is pretty simple to change the sizes or other physical features of bills. It would help everyone keep track of their cash better. I personally dislike not knowing how much cash I have when I see a wad of the same size green in my wallet.

  116. cynicalliberal says:

    I can’t believe all these comments from people being so dismissive about this, seriously how does it inconvenience you directly to redesign the money.

    They’ve been resigning money already, seems logical to take the predicament of the blind into consideration anyway. They don’t have to take the whole current stock of money out of circulation now… Just replace it as they normally would. The argument that it would make our currency looks silly isn’t a very good argument. How much time do you spend staring at your money? I look at it twice, when I stick in my wallet or when I take it out. When the new bills or coins come out, I look at them thoughtfully for a moment and move on with my life.

  117. parnote says:

    @HIV 2 Elway: Dunno about you, but I prefer to go to the Braille tittie bars!

  118. delphi_ote says:

    Knowing how much cash someone hands you is a “minor issue”?

    Okay. I’ll make you a deal. How about you sell me your car for whatever pile of bills I hand you, since knowing how much I hand you is a “minor issue.” Or is it different when you’re the one being treated unfairly?

  119. delphi_ote says:

    @HeartBurnKid: “You know, everybody cites the “expense” of the idea… we’ve already been redesigning our currency every few years anyway. Why can we not simply incorporate some of these ideas into the next redesign?”

    Yes. Slowly roll it out in newer currency. Gradually, the problem is solved. There’s no excuse. Other developed nations take care of their blind. Why can’t the richest?

  120. FrugalFreak says:

    I liked the punched holes and scented ideas. People with disabilities deserve to live the same as un-handicapped. I am hard-of-hearing and I think closed-captions need to be mandated in online video. I want to enjoy the benefits of internet the same as you. Why not make it where every American can live a good life and be included? they pay taxes same as you.

  121. aahpandasrun says:

    Street signs and television also discriminate against the blind. It’s called a disability for a reason.

  122. ShariC says:

    My guess is the resistance to this is related to businesses not wanting to redesign vending machines to accept different types of bills of various sizes with variable thickness.

    Japan has had bills of the same size with raised areas for the blind for decades. The raised areas don’t get flattened out as some ignorant people believe they might be. Other cultures manage to make their money in such a way to accommodate the blind, but America, which is supposed to be the greatest country in the world is too stupid or indifferent to manage this change?

  123. amandakerik says:

    Canadian money has braille, bright colours, large numbers and (a lot of people miss this) raised ink.
    It also has a holographic stripe and watermarks that show a repeat of the person’s face as well as having one of the numbers on both sides only having parts of the number – holding them up to a light combines the pieces into a complete number.

    The toonies (two dollar coins) sound fake / tinny because they use two distinct kinds of alloy. Silver coloured on the outside, and gold coloured on the inside.

    I often wonder how Americans can tell the denomination of a bill at a glance as they’re all green.
    $5 = blue (and has kids playing hockey on it. yes, really)
    10 = purple
    20 = green
    50 = red
    100 = brown

  124. aphexbr says:

    It’s been answered a few times already but I just had to make a quick point:

    @CaptainCynic: “If paper money discriminates, so do driver’s licenses, and bookstores, and television…”

    The average blind person doesn’t need any of those things, so your point’s irrelevant (maybe they use TV, but there’s already concessions in place there).

    However, a blind person cannot use money effectively if they need to rely on the honesty of the general public. Would you trust a complete stranger to go through your wallet unseen and take the money they claim is owed? No, of course not, so why should a blind person?

    The vast majority of other Western countries have managed with different sized, different textured (and yes, coloured) notes for decades. Most countries don’t even have notes as low in value as a $1 (e.g. UK has £5 ($10) as the lowest note, the lowest Euro note is €5 ($7.50). Why should the blind be discriminated against because you don’t like change?

    “Does it really make sense to spend $40 Million dollars because someone in a wheelchair MIGHT use this particular sidewalk?”

    Yes – especially if that cost offsets dependence on welfare, public services, etc. You’d think differently if you were the guy in the wheelchair. You’re just one car wreck from being on the other side of the argument, so watch how you argue…

  125. Zephyr7 says:


    P_Smith had some good suggestions that are already in use elsewhere: “What would work and could transfer from other countries are Canada’s foil on the paper, or plastic sections on some European currency.”

  126. Anonymous says:


  127. Britt says:

    My vision is better than 20/20 and I find myself getting confused when I visit the States. Their currency is impossible to go for unless you’ve had a lot of practise with it. I’m happy with my colourful, Canadian money. Good stuff. I wish the US would get with the program.

  128. Difdi says:

    I wonder if the court published their decision in braille? If they didn’t, are they, too, discriminating against blind people?

  129. Mary says:

    @cynicalliberal: “seriously how does it inconvenience you directly to redesign the money.”

    Small redesigns inconvenience me very little. As I said, adding braille, notches, or something similar would be no different to me in the everyday world and I honestly can’t imagine why they haven’t done it (as somebody pointed out, Japan already has raised lettering and that’s easy enough). Phase it in slowly, ta daa.

    What bothers me about this is that a change to $1 and $2 coins WOULD be more trouble than it’s worth, as would changing the size of the bills. The different colors wouldn’t be so much, but as somebody else pointed out I just don’t like it and that’s a psychological hurdle.

    But when the solution to pleasing everybody is so simple: raised numbers or braille phased in through new currency redesigns, then why is everybody arguing? Braille doesn’t hurt anybody, and it helps the people who have a problem.

  130. Channing says:

    Please, change our money. And, while we’re at it, lets get rid of pennies (which costs 1.23 cents to create as of 06) and nickels (which costs 5.73 cents to create as of 06) because they cost too much to make.

  131. autobahnaroo says:

    What really strikes me is the fact that blind people can’t come on here and defend themselves. So it’s basically a fight between seeing people over what our opinions are of currency helping the blind, which is stupid and useless.

  132. Mary says:

    @autobahnaroo: Blind people can use the internet. In fact, they often do. There might not be any blind people in this thread, but they easily could be.