Thursday, November 30, 2006

Money for the Blind

The American Council of the Blind filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department, claiming that the lack of non-visual identifying features on U.S. paper money violates the guarantee of "meaningful access" to all government programs in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998 (29 USC 701), which says, "[D]isability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to ... enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society." A federal judge agreed, and has ordered the U.S. Treasury to develop techniques to permit blind and visually impaired people to determine the value of a bank note without relying on the honesty of a sighted person. The Treasury opposed the lawsuit, claiming that it would be expensive and also that it would undermine anti-counterfeiting efforts.

When 12 countries in Europe introduced the Euro a few years ago, for the first time, advocacy groups for vision-impaired people were actively involved in the initial design phases, ensuring that the Euro bank notes are easily distinguishable by touch alone. The United States has a moral obligation to follow that lead, to make our paper money accessible to the blind, and not to appeal this ruling.

Lastly, one random bit of money trivia for you: only one U.S. coin has ever been minted with Braille markings. The Alabama state quarter, issued in 2003, features a portrait of Helen Keller, with her name in Braille just above her name in regular print. The Braille is much too small to read by touch, but it was a nice gesture all the same. I hope that same spirit of outreach will govern the Treasury's future dealings with the vision-impaired community.

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