Does Paper Money Discriminate Against the Blind?

In American Council of the Blind v. Paulson, a trial judge declared that American paper money discriminates against the blind because it lacks features that the blind can use to easily distinguish between different denominations, such as bumps or different sizes or shapes. (The ruling has been placed on hold pending appeal.)

Sarah Waldeck argues that this was judicial overreaching, for two reasons. First, the Rehabilitation Act only guarantees the disabled meaningful access to services and transactions, not perfectly equal access, and the blind have such access, through use of credit and debit cards and other payment options and innovations, which reduce the risk that merchants will defraud unknowing blind people. Second, most of the burden of redesigning the bills (indeed, an undue burden) would fall not on the Treasury Department but on merchants, vending machine operators, and other third parties.

The National Federation of the Blind, the best-known advocacy group for the blind, also opposes the trial judge’s ruling, fearing that it will reinforce stereotypes employers have of blind people being unable to function in society or perform everyday tasks.

My previous post raised questions about the trial judge’s ruling, but it focused on the burdens the ruling placed on the Treasury Department, which feared increased counterfeiting and printing costs, and did not address the burdens merchants, vending machine operators, and other third parties would experience from it. An appeal of the judge’s ruling will be heard by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on November 19.

In another post discussing a lawsuit against Target, I discussed the potentially enormous burdens and chilling effect on speech of lawsuits seeking to force companies to redesign their web sites to accommodate the blind.