New frontiers in disabled rights: “A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by failing to design and issue currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people. Judge James Robertson, in a ruling on a suit by the American Council of the Blind, ordered the Treasury to devise a method to tell bills apart.” The court acted on the basis of the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees to the disabled “meaningful access” to federal programs. (CNN Money, Nov. 28; decision in American Council of the Blind v. Paulson courtesy FindLaw; decision in PDF form at court website).
More: Here’s an interesting development: the National Federation of the Blind, the best known organization for blind Americans, has issued a press release sharply critical of the lawsuit and the ruling (“dangerously misguided”) (Yahoo/PRNewswire, Nov. 29). According to Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, “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. … [The ruling] 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.” More from the NFB press release:
Blind people traditionally identify paper currency by folding bills of different denominations in different ways. “In reality, blind people do not routinely find that we have been short-changed,” Maurer commented. Machines are readily available to identify paper money for blind people who run businesses or handle large amounts of cash. “Essentially, the United States Treasury has been ordered by the courts to come up with a solution for a nonexistent problem,” Maurer said.
Per the AP, “Government attorneys argued that forcing the Treasury Department to change the size or texture of the bills would make it harder to prevent counterfeiting,” but Judge Robertson was not swayed (“Judge Says Currency Shortchanges the Blind”, AP/Washington Post, Nov. 29). See also Dvorak Uncensored and Orin Kerr.