Money discriminates against blind, federal appellate court rules

After a six-year legal battle, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that the Treasury Department violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with its design of the country’s paper currency – which discriminates against he blind because different denominations are virtually indistinguishable to those without sight.

In a ruling on the discrimination claim brought by the American Council of the Blind, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote in the 2-1 opinion that the fact that blind people have adapted to the design – by using credit and debit cards, relying on store sales associates and by other means – that does not save the bills’ design from violating the Act.

“Even the most searching tactile examination will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill. The secretary has identified no reason that requires paper currency to be uniform to the touch,” Rogers wrote.
Now it is up to the Treasury Department to either begin to implement changes to the currency design or appeal the decision to a full panel of the Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said the department was reviewing the opinion, and had already begun looking into ways to assist the blind even before the decision was handed down.

Mitch Pomerantz, President of the American Council of the Blind, called the decision “a tremendous victory for the ACB and for every blind and visually impaired person living in the United States today and in the future. We hope that the treasure department will now sit down with us to come up with a mutually satisfactory way of making our currency accessible.”

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