Feds Say No To Blind-Friendly Paper Money

U.S. $1 dollar bill back, with detail of "In God We Trust", 6-27-02 AP

The Bush administration on Tuesday asked an appeals court to overturn a ruling that could require a redesign of the nation's currency to help the blind.

Justice Department lawyers filed the appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The appeal seeks to overturn a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, who ordered the Treasury to come up with ways for the blind to recognize the different denominations of paper currency.

Robertson had ruled in a lawsuit brought by the American Council of the Blind. The council proposed several options for changes, including printing different size bills or changing the texture by adding embossed dots or foil.

Jeffrey Lovitky, an attorney for the council, said he planned to petition the appeals court to reject the appeal until Robertson makes a decision on what remedies the government should pursue. A hearing to hear the government's recommendations is scheduled for next month.

In his ruling, Robertson said that of 180 countries issuing paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations.

He said the current practice violates the Rehabilitation Act, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in government programs.

In the government's appeal, Justice Department lawyers argued that visually impaired people are not denied "meaningful access" to money by the way the nation's currency is designed.

They noted the existence of portable reading devices that the blind can use to determine the denomination of paper money. The government said the blind can also use credit cards instead of currency.

The government also argued that Robertson was wrong in ruling that making changes to help the blind would not be unduly burdensome.

Tara Cortes, president of Lighthouse International, an advocacy group for the blind, said the government's decision to fight making changes in the currency was "misguided and harmful to millions."

She said there are 1.3 million people in the United States who are legally blind and there will be millions more in coming years as the baby boom generation ages and more people fall victim to macular degeneration and other diseases that can affect vision such as diabetes.

"While the government may argue that changing the dollar bill will cost billions, it will pale in comparison to the costs of the vision loss epidemic," Cortes said.
  • Alfonso Serrano

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