May 22, 2008
Remake that greenback!

This was something I didn't expect.

The U.S. discriminates against blind people by printing paper money that makes it impossible for them to distinguish among the bills' varying values, a federal appeals court ruled today.

The ruling upholds a decision by a lower court in 2006. It could force the Treasury Department to redesign its money. Suggested changes have ranged from making bills different sizes to printing them with raised markings.

The American Council for the Blind sued for such changes but the Treasury Department has been fighting the case for about six years.

"I don't think we should have to rely on people to tell us what our money is," said Mitch Pomerantz, the council's president.

The U.S. acknowledges the design hinders blind people but it argued that blind people have adapted. Some relied on store clerks to help them, some used credit cards and others folded certain corners to help distinguish between bills.

The court ruled 2-1 that such adaptations were insufficient. The government might as well argue that, since handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask for help from strangers, there's no need to make buildings wheelchair accessible, the court said.


While the government has been fighting to overturn the lower court ruling, it has been taking some steps toward modifying U.S. currency for the visually impaired.

The most recent currency redesign of the $5 bill introduced in March features a giant "5" printed in purple on one side of the bill to help those with vision problems distinguish the bill.

The appeals court also ruled that the U.S. failed to explain why changing the money would be an undue burden. The Treasury Department has redesigned its currency several times in recent years, and adding features to aid the blind would come at a relatively small cost, the court said.

Other countries have added such features, the court said, and the U.S. never explained what made its situation so unique.

I think the court's reasoning is sound, and its analogy apt. For those who are inclined to grumble about "activist judges", whatever that means, bear in mind that the disabled are a class of folks which one may unexpectedly join at any time. If the day comes when you cannot easily distinguish between a fiver and a double sawbuck, you may have a different opinion of this ruling. I hope the Treasury accepts it and declines to pursue a needless appeal to the US Supreme Court. The sooner we do the right thing and fix the problem, the better.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 22, 2008 to National news

It's hard to imagine how a decision determining whether or not the ADA applies to money is "activist".

Posted by: Greg Morrow on May 22, 2008 12:46 PM