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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blind Money

Close your eyes. Reach into your pocket, wallet or purse and pull out a dollar bill. Can't do it? Have to look?

United States paper money is not accessible to people who are blind, a federal court ruled in a headline-making decision. American Council of the Blind v Paulson, No. 02-0864 (D.D.C. Nov. 28, 2006).

Our paper cash is all the same size and same texture. So one cannot tell a $10 from a $50 by touch. And, interestingly, the United States is an international exception here, with many other countries having differentiated bills by size and touch. The Euro: larger denominations are longer!

The court found that the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 504 requires the U.S. Treasury to make paper currency accessible to person who are blind.

This case reminds us that the last 30 years have transformed the participation in our society of people with so-called handicaps. Invisibility and non-participation are still present, but have decreased markedly. “Non-handicapped” (or “temporarily able-bodied people”) are much more conscious of the needs of others in this regard.

The court waxed eloquent here: “There was a time when disabled people had no choice but to ask for help – to rely on the “kindness of strangers.” It was thought to be their lot. Blind people had to ask strangers to push elevator buttons for them. People in wheelchairs needed Boy Scouts to help them over curbs and up stairs. We have evolved, however, and Congress has made our evolution official, . . .”

Like so many other changes required by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, a revamped paper money set will benefit ALL of society. I will be able to tell a $1 from a $5 just on reaching into my pocket, or in the dark. Sorting bills will be speeded up for cash businesses. Forgers will have a harder time. And more.

We may have been blind to this issue as a society. Now, that’s over.

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