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A federal court has ruled that US currency in its current form unfairly excludes blind Americans from participating in the economy. Really, how hard was this to fix?

When I read this I immediately thought of a blind man who sold magazines in my father's office building. He had to rely on an honor system because he couldn't distinguish between bills. Usually basic human decency combined with the watchful eyes of other patrons was enough to keep people honest, but he said that there were always a few crooks that he wouldn't discover until the end of the day. Anyone who watched Ray will also remember the powerful scene in which Ray Charles learns to only accept $1 bills as payment.

My question is, why couldn't this have been done before? How hard is it to punch tiny holes in the corner, create raised bumps, make some bills longer than others? Here is yet another case in which the two popularly elected branches of government have excluded a minority group from the benefits that the majority take for granted. What would we do without judicial activism?

Also, I was curious. Does anyone know whether other countries deliberately configure their currencies to accomodate the seeing impaired?

Originally posted to Jonathanonymous on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:31 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The euro does (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homogenius, dallasdave

    See this wikipedia article for more detail.

    If it can be done on the euro it can be done on the dollar.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:32:51 AM PST

    •  Actually, most paper currencies (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene, homogenius

      have different sizes and colors for different denominations, and lots of them have Braille or some kind of raised markings to indicate value.

      But we Murrikans do everything perfect already, so why change?  Except because of the counterfeiters.

  •  A good point! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is kind of an "orphan" issue that needs grassroots  support.

    It will cost tons of money to change our paper currency, but something can and should be done.

    I appreciate your taking the time to wrote about this and hope you keep us updated.

  •  Canadian money (3+ / 0-)

    also has braille on it, and has for a while now new podcasts weekly

    by mhradio on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:33:55 AM PST

  •  Your final question. (4+ / 0-)

    Yes virtually every country does.

    •  Netherlands (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      currency is lovely and differing sizes.
      Another thing is our coins have no numerical reference on them - all english terms such as one quarter, 'dime', etc. Hard for non-english speakers to figure out.

    •  read the court's opinion (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's here.  Here's what they say (cites deleted):

      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. 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.

      The Euro varies in size based on denomination: the greater the value of the note, the greater the length. The i5, i10, i20, i50, and i100 notes also vary in height. Euros also possess tactile features: each bill includes a large, raised numeral designed to be perceptible to touch, at least when the banknotes are new, and a foil feature that can be identified by touch; the foil feature on the smaller notes – i5, i10, i20 – is of a different shape and in a different location than those on the larger ones.

      The Swiss Franc contains intaglio digits and a perforated numeral that can be identified by touch. Japan, in a new design for the Yen, has incorporated a tactile feature in the ¥10,000, ¥5,000 and ¥1,000 notes, different for each note, that has a rougher texture than the rest of the bill.

      The Canadian Dollar also contains tactile features. On the upper right corner on the face of each bill is a series of raised symbols separated by a smooth surface, which differ according to denomination. The $5 note has one raised symbol, the $10 note has two such symbols, and so forth. The Bank of Canada also provides (free to blind and low vision  individuals) an electronic hand-held note reader. Australia’s dollars differ in color and size. English Pound notes vary in color and size and contain tactile symbols. Chinese currency differs in color and possesses a tactile symbol, as does the currency in Argentina and Israel. Saudi Arabia’s
      currency varies in color and size.

    •  Ive got a (0+ / 0-)

      Brittish Tenner in my pocket. No raised marking I can discern. Mexico the same way. Those are the only foreign currencies in my wallet right now.

  •  Hmmm (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I never thought about this...

    That is a great point--it seems increadibly discriminatory now that I think about it.

    "People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. They don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." --J.R.

    by michael1104 on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:38:29 AM PST

  •  Euro notes come in different sizes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Euro bills of different denominations come in different sizes and have on their surfaces various features easily discernible to the touch, in part so that blind persons can easily distinguish them.

  •  Almost every country does this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, Jonathanonymous, Simpletonian

    Just altering the size of the bills would work. From the NYT

    "Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency," Judge Robertson wrote, "only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations."

    insert witty quotation here

    by zenbowl on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:45:55 AM PST

  •  Our coinage is mean to non-natives.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle, sj, Adam B, Simpletonian

    Take out a dime. Pretend you don't know, and figure out what it is worth in cents.

    A friend from Germany pointed this out to me once.

  •  oddly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sj, Adam B

    I got a fundraising call from the American Center for the Blind just yesterday.  The guy on the phone claimed that 70% of blind people are unemployed.  That seems absurdly high, but I don't know why they'd lie about it.  He basically claimed that the ADA of 1990 was being violated repeatedly.

    After that call and reading this today, I'm paying attention to this issue.

    D-Day, the newest blog on the internet (at the moment of its launch)

    by dday on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:48:48 AM PST

  •  Here's the Court Decision (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Adam B, Ken Comer

    Judge James Robertson issued his 26-page Memorandum Order yesterday.

    The judge noted prominently that 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.  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." (Order at 4-5, citing National Academy of Sciences, Currency Features for Visually Impaired People.)  Judge Robertson concludes,

    Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they lack meaningful access to U.S. currency. They have put forth several potential accommodations that are reasonable on their face. The government has not sustained its burden of showing that any of them would be unduly burdensome to implement. I find, accordingly, that the Treasury Department’s failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals violates § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and I will grant plaintiffs’ prayer for a declaratory judgment.

     [But he also finds:]

    This Court has neither the expertise, nor, I believe, the power, to choose among the feasible  alternatives, approve any specific design change, or otherwise to dictate to the Secretary of the Treasury how he can come into compliance with the law. The Clerk will be directed to set a status conference for the purpose of discussing remedy and scheduling any further proceedings, unless within ten days of the issuance of this memorandum order the government applies for leave to file an interlocutory appeal.

    I would have to guess that there isn't likely going to be a quick resolution of this matter, unless the Treasury Department decides that it might as well incorporate some remediating features into their next redesign of the currency.

  •  the ADA (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has a massive loophole, in that it "prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation".  Note that the federal government is not covered.

    "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

    by Bearpaw on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 09:52:47 AM PST

    •  There are more exemptions than that. (0+ / 0-)

      The airlines have many exemptions under federal law. And congress and the courts keep watering down the ADA. No matter that it is proven that keeping people with disabilities indepenant and working is good for the economy.

      Blessed are the arrogant...for they shall be really impressed with themselves.

      by homogenius on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 10:10:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The National Federation of the Blind (0+ / 0-)

    is against this court ruling, ironically enough. Here's what they said:

    Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The blind need jobs and real opportunities to earn money, not feel-good gimmicks that misinform the public about our capabilities.  Blind people transact business with paper money every day.  This ruling puts a roadblock in the way of solving the real problem, which is the seventy percent unemployment rate among working-age blind Americans that severely limits our access to cash.  The ruling will do nothing to alleviate that situation; in fact, it seriously endangers the ability of the blind to get jobs and participate fully in society.  It argues that the blind cannot handle currency or documents in the workplace and that virtually everything must be modified for the use of the blind.  An employer who believes that every piece of printed material in the workplace must be specially designed so that the blind can read it will have a strong incentive not to hire a blind person."

    I'm flabbergasted by their reaction to this ruling.

    What's madness but nobility of the soul at odds with circumstance?

    by slinkerwink on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 10:35:10 AM PST

  •  DUH! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The solution to this is to put forth legislation banning all fees related to debit/ATM cards. Most places take debit/ATM cards now for purchases.

    If you level the playing field so that no one pays a fee per transaction and make the cards universally accepted without fees to the user, you eliminate the problem of ever having paper money in your wallet.

    Why go for the fix that's an expense to taxpayers? Let the banks deal with it for a change.  

  •  so how does the gov't go about changing the (0+ / 0-)

    money supply like that? what will be the mechanics? will they just let the old money naturally die out?

    Which could take a really really long time, considering the various cash economies, including real criminal cash enonomies and just the undeclared $$ you make from doing garage sales or whatever. or will the "old money" just become invalid eventually? Will it be considered suspicious to spend the "old" money, or try to trade it in?

    if we're replacing all the money anyway, won't some argue that we should include anti-crime, anti-tax-fraud tracking devices in the new design, so the FBI and IRS knows where all the cash money goes and comes from? (paranoid or not, there's no doubt some would like to introduce GPS devices everywhere).

  •  You don't have to bring back the Franc (0+ / 0-)

    But bring back "The Little Prince" on the currency.  Those were great bills.

    Your vote doesn't count if your vote isn't counted.

    by nightsweat on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 10:52:41 AM PST

  •  Other countries do (0+ / 0-)

    especially China, Japan, and the Euro Zone.

    "It's better to realize you're a swan than to live life as a disgruntled duck."

    by Mumon on Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 11:00:40 AM PST

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