Federal Judge: Make Cash Accessible to the Blind
A federal district court judge in Washington has ruled that Federal Reserve Notes must be redesigned to allow the blind and visually impaired to more easily distinguish between denominations:
U.S. District Judge James Robertson said keeping all U.S. currency the same size and texture violates the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in government programs.
“Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations,” Robertson wrote in his ruling. “More than 100 of the other issuers vary their bills in size according to denomination, and every other issuer includes at least some features that help the visually impaired.” …
In the lawsuit, which has been in the court system for four years, government attorneys argued that forcing the Treasury Department to change the size of the bills or add texture would make it harder to prevent counterfeiting. Robertson was not swayed.
“The fact that each of these features is currently used in other currencies suggests that, at least on the face of things, such accommodations are reasonable,” he wrote.
“I’m sure there were concerns around the cost of coming out with all these new bills (to prevent counterfeiting),” [Andrew] Imparato [of the American Association of People with Disabilities] said. “When you’re already going through the cost of the new design, I don’t think it would cost a lot more to build in accessibility.”
He acknowledged that many Americans may not want to make the change to different sized currency. Several attempts to move U.S. currency to a dollar coin have failed in the past, though the Treasury Department announced last week that it is going to give it another go with new coins struck with images of the deceased presidents.
“The main argument in favor of not doing that is tradition, and tradition and accessibility do not always mix,” Imparato said.
Robertson wouldn’t say how Treasury must do it, but he gave the government agency 10 days to start working on new bills that the blind can tell apart.
I’m not quite as amused/chagrined by this ruling as Viking Pundit, and I think there is a reasonable case to be made for making different denominations of money recognizable by size (along with getting rid of the dollar bill). That said, the most likely outcome of this whole debate–even with a party taking over that might be expected to be more sympathetic to people with disabilities–is that Congress will amend the Rehabilitation Act to exempt paper currency from its requirements rather than irritating the retail and banking sectors by allowing the decision to stand, thereby forcing the Fed to introduce new money that doesn’t fit in existing cash registers and vending machines.