US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge James Robertson has ruled that the Department of the Treasury is violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by not designing currency so that it is distinguishable to the visually impaired. In a suit filed by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), Judge Robertson wrote, “It can no longer be successfully argued that a blind person has ‘meaningful access’ to currency if she cannot accurately identify paper money without assistance.”

US currency has been undergoing gradual changes since 1996 to add security features to fight counterfeiters. In the last few years, new notes have included splashes of color to further thwart the new imaging equipment that can create convincing copies of US currency. The next change will come in 2008 with a change to the $5 note.

During this time, no effort was made to provide features that could be used by the visually impaired to distinguish between the different denominations. This prompted the lawsuit from the ACB. In the ruling, Judge Robertson wrote that the ACB proposed several possible changes to including “dimensions varied by denomination, embossed dots, foil, micro-perforations, and raised intaglio printing.”

“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,” Judge 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.”

Judge Robertson noted that the cost to make the changes to the printing process would require less than 5-percent of the expenses generated by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the last ten years.

Treasury Department has 30 days to submit a plan to comply with the order.

There has been no comment from the Department of the Treasury. Stay tuned!

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