Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Court Says Money Discriminates Against Blind People
May 20, 2008
WASHINGTON - 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 Tuesday.
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.
Courts can't decide how to design the currency, since that's up to the Treasury Department. But the ruling forces the department to address what the court called a discriminatory problem.
Pomerantz says it could take years to change the look of money and until then, he expects that similar-looking money will continue to get printed and spent. But since blindness becomes more common with age, people in the 30s and 40s should know that, when they get older, "they will be able to identify their $1 bills from their fives, tens and twenties," he said.
Officials at the Treasury Department and the department's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints the nation's currency, had no immediate comment on the ruling. The government could appeal to the Supreme Court.
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.