Tuesday, May 20, 2008

U.S. Dollars Illegal

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has violated the Rehabilitation Act (a predecessor to the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits disability discrimination in federal programs) by discriminating against the blind in designing and printing the current generation of U.S. bills because bills of one denomination cannot be distinguished from another denomination by touch (try it).  The 2-to-1 panel majority concluded that the failure to make U.S. notes distinguishable by touch denies the blind "meaningful access" to U.S. currency and implementing measures to remedy that would not constitute an "undue burden" on the government.  The opinion is here.

The result seems quite salutary to me.  The plaintiffs in the case are apparently not seeking an immediate resign of U.S. currency, but instead are trying to get the Bureau to incorporate new touch features in the next wave of note redesigns.  That seems pretty feasible, as the vast majority of other currency systems in the world use such features -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by the panel.  It seems implausible that adding a tactilely-distinguishable feature, such as raised printing or braille-like dots, will vastly increase the cost of the next redesign or cause great problems for optical readers (like those found in vending machines).  Indeed, the Bureau has studied such options over the last few years.  It seems that the only true reason one hasn't been added yet is that the Bureau hasn't made it much of a priority.  

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