In a 2-1 decision handed down by a U.S. federal appeals court on Tuesday, the court ruled that the United States government discriminates against the blind by printing paper money. In American Council of the Blind v. Paulson, the court ruled that it is impossible for blind individuals to distinguish among the various denominations of paper money.
The decision could require the Treasury Department to print paper money in different sizes for each denomination, vary the color of bills and print bills with raised markings.
The majority said, “We hold that the Council has demonstrated both the denial of meaningful access and the availability of facially reasonable accommodations that are feasible and efficacious, and that the Secretary has not demonstrated that implementation of every such accommodation would involve an undue burden.” It is still to be determined if the Treasury Department will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It should be noted that the government has taken steps on its own to make differing values of currency more distinguishable for individuals with vision problems. In March, a redesigned $5 bill was put into circulation that includes a large purple “5” on the lower right hand corner on the back of the bill.
Judge Randolph in his dissenting opinion noted that, “The government put forth evidence indicating that it would cost billions of dollars to alter private vending machines and ATMs and that rendering current wallets and purses obsolete would impose additional costs…varying the size of the currency ‘really does pose an undue burden on business.’”
In the end the court has handed down a decision that will make them feel warm and fuzzy on the inside without seriously considering the economic impact of such a decision on business and consumers. And to make matters worse, as Judge Randolph concludes, “In short, my colleagues have not identified a single accommodation that is undisputedly ‘reasonable, effective, and feasible.’”