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Appeals court Paper currency discriminates vs. the blind
WASHINGTON (5/21/08)--A federal appeals court in Washington Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that the nation's paper currency system discriminates against the blind people. In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the paper currency is discriminatory because bills of different denominations are the same size, shape and color, and cannot easily be distinguished. The decision could force the Treasury Department to introduce bills of different sizes or print them with distinguishable features, such as raised print (The Washington Post May 20). The department had considered making bills different sizes but ran into opposition from manufactures of vending and change machines, who say it could cost billions to redesign vending machines (Associated Press May 20). The suit was filed by the American Council for the Blind six years ago. According to the decision, the government argued that although the currency design hinders blind people, they have adapted. Some fold each denomination different, while others rely on store clerks to help or use credit cards. The court ruled such adaptations are insufficient under the Rehabilitation Act and that the Treasury must find a way to accommodate the needs of the visually impaired. In the decision, the court said the government could have avoided some of the cost of changing the currency if it had accommodated the visually impaired when it added anti-counterfeiting features to bills in 1996 and 2004. Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said the department was reviewing the opinion. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints the currency, recently hired a contractor to consider ways to help the blind, and a report will be available early next year, she told Associated Press. Not all blind people agree that the currency should be changed. In a press release, the National Federation of the Blind said hundreds of thousands of blind people use paper money every day without difficulty. "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. Identifying items by touch (including currency) is convenient, but not essential…," said federation President Dr. Marc Maurer.


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