Government may alter money after court ruling that current design discriminates against blind people

June 5, 2008

Washington, DC-U.S. paper currency could be headed for a redesign following the upholding of a lower court decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Washington, DC-U.S. paper currency could be headed for a redesign following the upholding of a lower court decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court ruled that the country’s money is discriminatory against people who are blind or visually impaired, and the decision has been greeted with mixed reactions from organizations serving such people. The redesign could lead to the printing of bills of varying sizes, colors, and raised markings.

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) had sued for such changes, but the government had fought the case for about 6 years. A federal appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the currency should be altered despite the government’s contention that those who are blind or visually impaired can rely on store clerks, use credit cards, fold corners of money, or use other methods to distinguish between bills.

“This is a tremendous victory for the ACB and for every blind and visually impaired person living in the United States today and in the future,” said ACB President Mitch Pomerantz in a statement on the organization’s Web site. “We hope that the Treasury Department will now sit down with us to come up with a mutually satisfactory way of making our currency accessible.” Almost all other industrialized countries have currency that blind and visually impaired people can differentiate, the ACB said.

A redesign could take years, and the government could appeal the decision to the full 13-member appeals court or ask for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) expressed disappointment with the ruling.
“We hope that this ruling will not have the unintended consequence of reinforcing society’s misconception that blind people are unable to function in the world as it currently is,” said NFB President Marc Maurer, JD, in a statement posted on the organization’s Web site. “Identifying items by touch (including currency) is convenient but not essential to blind people being able to participate fully in society.”

Maurer said that Braille instruction for children who are blind, training for the unemployed who are blind, and books for people who are blind are needed more than a change in currency design.