Judge rules Trea­sury De­part­ment must change cur­rency to help blind

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen Haberkorn

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.

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