Judge rules Treasury Department must change currency to help blind
A federal judge on Nov. 28 ruled that the Treasury Department must change currencies — potentially changing the size, shape or feel of each denomination — so blind people can use them.
U.S.DistrictJudgeJamesRobertsonsaidthatbymakingdifferentdenominations of bills the same size and shape, the government has violated the Rehabilitation Act and deniedblindpeopleawaytousemoney.
The judge did not provide a solution, but ordered Treasury to find one.
Government attorneys argued that adding texture or changing the sizeofbillswouldbecostlyandmake it harder to prevent counterfeiting.
The American Council of the Blind, which filed the suit in 2002, proposed a number of solutions that are used in other countries.
In Britain, each denomination is a different size, said Melanie Brunson,theWashingtonassociation’sexecutive director. In Canada, currency has a series of dots in its corners, differentiated by denomination. And other countries use differentpatternsofraiseddotsorlines.
“OurintentwastogetTreasuryto focusenoughattentiontoincorporate those [ideas] or come up with something else to meet the needs of people who can’t read them visually,” Mrs. Brunson said.
About 937,000 Americans are legallyblind,whichmeansthattheir vision is no better than 20/200 when corrected.
JudgeRobertsonsaidthatifother countries can print denominations that blind people can use without counterfeitingproblems,thensocan the United States.
TheTreasuryDepartmentdidnot return calls for comment.
Government lawyers argued that changing the size of currency could costupto$228millionininitialcosts and $52 million annually to make currencyindifferentsizes.Theleast expensive change, adding a raised numeral, would cost $45.5 million initially and $16 million annually. The government estimated it would have to spend another $70 million to $90 million in public education for any changes.
“If additional savings could be gainedbyincorporatingthenewfeature into a larger redesign, such as thosethattookplacein1996or2004, thetotalburdenofaddingsuchafeature would be even smaller,” wrote Judge Robertson, who was appointedbyPresidentClintonin1994.
In 1996, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began inserting color and larger faces on bills to prevent counterfeiting.
Blind people must ask other people for assistance, fold different denominations in different ways, or keepdifferentdenominationsinseparate parts of wallets or purses, puttingthematriskofbeingcheated, the American Council of the Blind argued in court.
Members of Congress have pro- posed legislation changing the size and shape of currency, but it has never passed, Judge Robertson wrote in his opinion. The 1996 redesign of the $20 bill included a larger font to identify the $20, which helped people with reduced vision, but did not help blind people.
The judge found that the similarities among the bills is a violation of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibitsdiscriminationingovernment programs on the basis of disability.
“We believe this is a very significant step,” Mrs. Brunson said. “This isthefirsttimeajudgehasruledthat a failure to provide means of identifying currency is a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.”
The judge ordered a status conference in about 30 days.