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Judge Says U.S. Money Violates Rights of the Blind 898

An anonymous reader writes, "The United States is one of the few countries in the world whose currency isn't distinguishable by blind people. Most other nations use raised text, different-sized bills, or other methods to assist blind people in spending their money. If a recent decision by a federal court in D.C. survives appeal, however, that will soon change. Under Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal programs cannot deny 'meaningful access' to people with disabilities. Because blind people are unable to distinguish U.S. currency without assistance, the court held that they are denied meaningful access to their own money. U.S. District Judge James Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to come up with ways for the blind to tell bills apart. He said he wouldn't tell officials how to fix the problem, but he ordered them to begin working on it." How Appealing notes that Judge Robertson opened the door to a speedy appeal of his ruling.
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Judge Says U.S. Money Violates Rights of the Blind

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  • Money Reader (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ice Wewe ( 936718 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:34AM (#17031178)
    Well, you have to carry it around, but there are machines out there that when a bill is scanned through them, will report it's value. So, is there really a need to redesign the bills so that they're accessable to the blind?
    • Re:Money Reader (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Yahweh Doesn't Exist ( 906833 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:37AM (#17031186)
      are the readers free?
      • by eggoeater ( 704775 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:51AM (#17031332) Journal
        are the readers free?
        Yes, they are.
        They're called debit card readers.

        Seriously, I worked with some blind people in college and they would just use a credit/debit card for everything.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sox2 ( 785958 )
          Not everywhere takes credit/debit: try using one on a coke machine or at a hot dog stand and prepare to go thirsty/hungry. The inability to distinguish notes is quite a big deal to the substantial number of people with sight discibilities. The US currency has a history of being slow to adopt sensible measures - only relatively recently was a realistic attempt at address forgery added to the greenback.
        • Re:Money Reader (Score:5, Insightful)

          by aedil ( 68993 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @09:29AM (#17032210)
          Hm, I have yet to see a free money or debit card reader anywhere. For bills, money identifiers are quite expensive and a bit bulky. As far as debit card readers, those are not free either. Sometimes state agencies for the blind may be willing to pay for one, on an individual basis, but that certainly does not apply to the majority of blind people.

          Also, note that you can't just use debit cards for everything. There are quite a few things in life that you do need cash for, and blind people should not be excluded from being able to use regular money.

          Finally, making bills accessible isn't really rocket science. Looking around at other countries around the world, the US is really far behind in this. Unfortunately for the blind, the US treasury has a very large loophole (although it could make for an interesting legal battle): all US currency ever printed remains legal tender, so even if new bills are made accessible, there will remain a large amount of inaccessible bills in circulation for a *long* time. Other countries have been able to replace bills. On the other hand, that also means that it is even more important for the US to act on this immediately, because the problem only gets bigger (and they already missed the boat on the last bill redesign (using colour) that went through recently).
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by PDAllen ( 709106 )
            Notes remaining legal tender isn't really all that uncommon. What everyone does is to simply stop reissuing the old variety, so every time an old style note goes into a bank it gets destroyed, and a new style note comes out in its place. Give it six months and you still see a few old style notes about, but not very many - think about how long you normally hang onto a note for: a few days at most. This is also why you don't see too many ripped and tattered notes about, banks destroy them when they get them.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ikkonoishi ( 674762 )
            Yeah for one thing you can't stuff debit cards down a stripper's thong. And clubs already charge extra for blind people.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I don't know if this trend is happening elsewhere, but many stores in my area charge a fee to use debit cards.

          Some have a fee no matter what you owe. Some charge if it's under $x. Some don't charge at all, but it's becoming much more widespread.

          I've gone from being a debit card whore (hadn't carried a bill in my wallet in about 5 years) to cash again because of this.

          I wouldn't want to be forced to use my debit card and lose more money with every transaction just because I'm blind. There's not always anot
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        My mom, who is blind, has been trying to get one.

        They are around $200, and she does not have the money for that.
    • Re:Money Reader (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:44AM (#17031258)
      Doesn't it make sense to have easily distinguishable notes anyway, blind or not? Finding the correct note in your wallet is much slower with dollars than Euros or pounds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:36AM (#17031184)
    US currency is the easiest to forge in the world. You take a $1 bill, wash it clean and reprint it with a $100 bill. This will really increase the costs to forgers, and they should sue the treasury for loss of earnings.
  • About time too ! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:37AM (#17031188)
    The bills in the US are difficult to distinguish under conditions other than blindness, it's about time we caught up with the rest of the world. We make coins different shapes, sizes and textures, why not bills.
    • by shaneh0 ( 624603 )
      ...But my great grandfather, who went blind at 60 to Glaucoma, was able to identify a denomination with 100% accuracy. It was a dinner-party trick that always delighted the crowd. He lived until 90 and, while I'm not sure if this was an acquired skill, as long as I knew him (the last 10 years of his life), he was never wrong. So there must be SOMETHING to it. I always speculated that it could've been that he could actually feel the boundries of ink in the paper, or something like that. I once thought that h
  • FINALLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob of Dole ( 453013 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:39AM (#17031212) Journal
    I can see quite well with glasses, and this very thing has annoyed me plenty of times. Why the hell are all our bills the same size, shape, and color?
    Make them more distinct, and you'll speed up all cash transactions.
    If nothing else the fast food industry will thank you :)
    • Re:FINALLY (Score:5, Informative)

      by the_unknown_soldier ( 675161 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:42AM (#17031240)
      In Australia notes are all different colors (red, green, blue, pink etcetc) to make it patently obvious which note is which. It might not help blind people, but it prevents silly mistakes and makes money easily identifiable!

      For blind people they are slightly different lengths, which doesn't really effect non blind people.
      • Re:FINALLY (Score:5, Informative)

        by Oscar_Wilde ( 170568 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:14AM (#17031510) Homepage
        In Australia notes are all different colors (red, green, blue, pink etcetc) to make it patently obvious which note is which. It might not help blind people, but it prevents silly mistakes and makes money easily identifiable!
        The polymer that Australian Bank Notes are made from also has raised areas to help the blind and the clear windows are also different shapes with a smoother texture. Not just handy for blind people; they're also good anti counterfeiting measures.

        The Wikipedia article on the Australian Dollar [] has a nice chart of the Polymer Series []. Having lived in Germany (post Euro), Australia and the U.S.A. I can honestly say that Australian banknote technology is something that the U.S.A. and many other countries really should look into licensing.
        • Re:FINALLY (Score:4, Informative)

          by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @10:58AM (#17033508) Homepage
          One of the things that has prevented the adoption of many of the newer innovations in currency design for US paper currency is the 'crumple test', where a bill is rolled tightly, then inserted into a cylinder and crushed with a ramrod, then removed, rolled the other way, and crushed again. This process is repeated a total of 16 times; the note must remain recognizable. Prospective currency changes also go through a number of other durability tests -- being washed with eight cotton towels, being soaked in a variety of chemicals (such as bleach, sulfuric acid, and gasoline), 'rub tests' with a two-pound weight with a pad after bills are soaked in the chemicals, and others. So far, only relatively minor innovations, like the color-changing ink, have survived the durability tests -- for example, image holograms, IIRC, fail the crumple test badly.
    • Re:FINALLY (Score:4, Informative)

      by KokorHekkus ( 986906 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:46AM (#17031286)
      And if you add some kind of relief on the bills as well then you will most likely cut down on counterfeit bills as well. Swedish bills have the numbers printed with reliefs and it's very easy just to run your finger over them to make a preliminary check if the bill is real.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jtheletter ( 686279 )
      Why the hell are all our bills the same size, shape, and color?

      Well, this may not be the actual truth, but I seem to recall that this is what I learned in grade school. When the US government finally standardized the monetary system they made a conscious decision to make all bills the same size and color to prevent them from being easily recognizable from a distance as a security measure. The idea was if someone pulls out a wad of bright orange $100 bills, as opposed to blue $1s then a mugger could spy th
  • by tezza ( 539307 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:40AM (#17031222)
    Surely RFID tags in each note are the anwser??

    Then blind people can carry around a conveniently sized RFID reader.

    Just swipe past the reader and it'll tell you how much money is in your wallet. Or is that the amount in the next person's wallet? Ok, forget it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MojoRilla ( 591502 )
      Actually, there are already hand held optical bill readers for the blind. []
  • Why appeal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizrd_nml ( 661928 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:43AM (#17031254) Homepage
    Why is the Treasury Department appealing this ruling? They should embrace it and start solving the problem.

    Who exactly is harmed with this decision? I don't even see why it went to court in the first place.
    • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:45AM (#17031266)
      The cost to retool the machinery is significant. I don't know where they'd be able to scrape together that sort of cash.
    • Re:Why appeal? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by OfficialReverendStev ( 988479 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @10:52AM (#17033434)
      I have mod points but had to reply. *sigh* IUTWBEP (I Used To Work for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing) There are several reasons why the Treasury Department would resist this change: 1. There has just been a recent currency redesign. Each one usually takes ~10 years from start to finish. 2. The time it takes has little to do with "retooling" the machines. In fact, during the last changeover there was no gap in production. That is, the old 20's were printed right up until the time the new ones started. The reason? The new currency is printed on new machines. 3. Instead the time is taken by the actual design and preparation process. It takes years to actually get a design that everybody involved (more than you think) will accept. There are always minute details that get changed or massaged until all of the needs and wants are satisfied. Many special groups (in this case, for the blind) will be called in to consult. That frightens federal workers because a. most federal employees don't really care for contractors, despite what they tell you and b. it always takes longer when a consultant is involved, in the federal government or not. 4. The cost of changing the currency is astronomical. It's figured into the budget (my uncle is the chief of budget there... I didn't work for him though, no nepotism) over the course of that ~10 years. To mandate a change in the middle of a cycle will cause serious budget issues. 5. The vending machine industry will vehemently protest because every machine that accepts a bill will need to be changed. Sure, you could propose that we keep the $1 bill the same so that the vast majority of machines won't have to be updated and you're probably right. Unfortunately the vending machine companies will still protest. 6. Assuming this does get passed it will still take years to have it implemented, especially without specific instructions as to how to proceed. 7. If the project is rushed by court order or Treasury mandate the job will not be done well, or will blow the roof off of the budget. Oh yeah, by the way, BEP is NOT funded by Congress. The Federal Reserve buys the currency from them. Therefore, if the budget skyrockets Congress can't just step in and add more cash, unless there's... well an act of Congress. And quit it with the "they can just print more money" lines. Nobody who works for Treasury has ever though that was funny or clever. 8. If it's ordered to be done quickly and there is no budget increase it will be done poorly. Keep in mind that BEP employees, especially those working the presses are some of the finest in their field in the world. However, as anybody in IT will know, it doesn't matter how good you are at your job; if you're rushed and not properly-funded to meet the rush the job suffers. That's what I came up with off the top of my head. There are probably more problems. Maybe this can be worked into the next redesign but that should be a few years underway already. It's hard to change gears in the middle of a long-term project. Don't get me wrong though, I'm all for accessability. I think that it should be done, but now is not the time.
  • Fold your $! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fecal Troll Matter ( 445929 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:45AM (#17031268) Homepage Journal
    I always did wonder how, in the U.S., blind people dealt with money. I ended up meeting a friend of my father's who was blind, so I asked him. He told me that he has someone (someone who can see, obviously) fold his money a certain way -- singles get folded in half, 5's got folded into an L-shape, 10's got folded another way and so on so that he always knew what denomination of money he was taking out of his wallet.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:45AM (#17031274) Homepage Journal

    Ramps built into buildings for wheelchairs make it easier to get heavy gear in and out. Braile on ATM keyboards and lift buttons make it easier to distinguish between keys. Audio-tactile devices on pedestrian crossings provide a better UI for people regardless of whether they can see or not.

    Trust me. US currency will be better for everybody if it accomodates blind people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bmajik ( 96670 )
      But, it has a cost. I don't know how often you've tried to use cash-accepting vending machines in the US, but even with our uniform sized notes, my entire life I've come to expect that there is a 5-20% failure rate on a given machine accepting a given note. Imagine my total surprise when i found that machines in Germany had no problem accepting the different sized Euro notes without trouble.

      Significant retooling will be required by all commercial entities in the US that deal with automated cash handling m
  • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:45AM (#17031276)
    Scratch and sniff.

    Make each bill smell like something else. Make a five smell like coffee, since thats what a coffee at starbucks costs. Ten smells like pizza. Twenty smells like chinese food, and a hundred smells like fine leather.

    The one doesn't smell like a damn thing, since you can't do much with it anyway.
  • by JumperCable ( 673155 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:51AM (#17031322)
    About 8 years ago I working in a building that had a blind man (none of this legally/partially blind bs) running the convience stand. He showed me one day how he determined the value of the currency handed to him. He felt the ridges on the corners of the bills. He could also feel the patterns of the faces.

    Pull out an old style $1 from your wallet. This the type of bill he was working with at the time. The black ink is slightly raised. The newer bills have slightly raised black ink too with different patterns. Run your finger nail across them to feel the ridges.
  • ATMs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tttonyyy ( 726776 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:51AM (#17031328) Homepage Journal
    Come to think about it, ATMs must be nigh on impossible to use too.

    Inserting the card and entering a PIN sounds doable blind - but then you're presented with screens to navigate via soft keys (and it's different between ATMs). No chance.

    Funny the things us sighted people take for granted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mgblst ( 80109 )
      Finding a hot chick must be pretty hard as well. I mean, I guess you feel her to make sure she doesn't have any moles or a moustache, but how can you feel pretty? Can't be done.
  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @07:58AM (#17031398)
    and turn it into a coin. Not this half-assed production of a few coins and predominantly bills. Get it over with and make it purely coins. It'll make vending machines more convenient. Coins are easily distinguishable.

    On mony, just have an imprinted (raised) mark whereever the denomination number is printed. It doesn't have to be elaborate - just dots like braile.

    I'm surprised this didn't come sooner with the Americans with disabilities act, or some such.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 )
      I forgot to add, also raised the portrait in the middle through imprinting and make it slightly 3d. This will help if the dots get worn or screwed with.
    • by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:10AM (#17031480) Homepage
      If we get rid of the dollar bill, what are people supposed to use at strip bars? A five is a little bit much for most people and I can't imagine having underwear full of coins is helpful when dancing. Please people, think of the strippers.
  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:01AM (#17031422) Journal
    On a trip to the states a while back, in a dimly lit strip club, I accidentally gave several $20 bills to a stripper instead of $1s, got a bit more than I bargained for. Wouldn't say it was a waste exactly, but you can't claim that shit back on expenses!
  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:08AM (#17031468) Homepage
    This is just a really poor decision that should be blocked by the next court up the chain. Reading the decision the judge goes into how bad it is that the bill are all the same and how it places a hardship, which it does. However devices are available which allow around which allow the money to meet the law. The judge should of told the people sueing that they should go take it up with thier congressmen; instead of doing this stupid soapbox speech.

    Some other decision by him:
    Private unions cannot expell members who spread "falsehood and misrepresentation" because that breaks the members freedom of speech.
    Has through out a few cases for companies giving expensive gifts to government officials.
    In various court cases has just ignored major case points on various parties and ruled based on older laws that had been superceded.
    • by oberondarksoul ( 723118 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:25AM (#17031588) Homepage
      Here in the UK, all our banknotes are different sizes and colours, and have a unique symbol on them as well (the £5 note has a blue square, the £10 a brown diamond, and so on). Frankly, as you're rifling through your wallet trying to find the right note, these distinguishing features are a godsend; when I was in the USA on holiday, it was much more time-consuming, although having said that the uniquely-blue $20 note helped a lot.

      Having easily-discernable banknotes will save everyone time, and will help the partially-sighted or blind a great deal. Why should they need to buy a device when it can be done by the money printers to everyone's benefit?
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @08:10AM (#17031482)
    Ain't going to happen. Europe does it (as well as integrating a whole bunch of additional anti-counterfeit measures), so it must be un-American. Never mind the blind, God (with a capital G) must hate them or they wouldn't be blind, right ? Also, it could help the terrorists. Dollar notes are just fine the way they are.
  • by slashrogue ( 775436 ) on Wednesday November 29, 2006 @04:33PM (#17039194)
    What I want to know is, will we finally be able to ditch the Illuminati pyramid and eye and get rid of the crazy Latin phrases?

    Maybe something more American, like "Either you're with us or you're against us." ha.

"Pull the wool over your own eyes!" -- J.R. "Bob" Dobbs