BRIEFLY

Judge Says Currency Shortchanges the Blind

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A federal judge said yesterday that by keeping all U.S. currency the same size and texture, the government has denied blind people meaningful access to money.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the Treasury Department has violated the law, and he ordered the government to develop ways for the blind to tell bills apart.

"Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations," Robertson wrote. "More than 100 of the other issuers vary their bills in size according to denomination, and every other issuer includes at least some features that help the visually impaired."

He said he wouldn't tell officials how to fix the problem, but he ordered them to begin working on it within 10 days. The American Council of the Blind has proposed several options, including printing bills of differing sizes, adding embossed dots or foil to the paper or using raised ink.

Government attorneys argued that forcing the Treasury Department to change the size or texture of the bills would make it harder to prevent counterfeiting.

Robertson was not swayed. "The fact that each of these features is currently used in other currencies suggests that, at least on the face of things, such accommodations are reasonable," he wrote.

He said the government was violating the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in government programs. The opinion came after a four-year legal fight.

"It's a landmark decision. I believe it will benefit millions of people," said Jeffrey A. Lovitky, attorney for plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

-- Associated Press


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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