During a discussion of inexpensive solutions for ways to make authentication into government systems stronger and accessible for the public at a low cost, we were told that the mechanism selected had a version in Braille to allow participation by the blind. Because the program was sponsored by the Department of the Treasury, it was considered ironic that Treasury was concerned about this blind in this program but does not make that same consideration for our currency.

The issue with accessibility of currency has long been an issue, especially since the passages of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Public Law 101-336, signed by President George H.W. Bush). Unfortunately, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has interpreted Title III (Public Accommodation) as not applying to US currency. Even as the BEP has added new security features and the look to our currency, no changes were made for the blind.

In 2002, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) brought a lawsuit against the Treasury Department demanding that US currency be designed to be accessible to visually impaired people. The court ruled in favor of the ACB complaint in 2006. Treasury was supposed to respond to the order in 30 days from the review. No public statement has been made by Treasury.

From the BEP’s founding in 1861 through the mid-1920s, the bureau had a history of frequently changing currency designs and even changed its size around the turn of the century. Beginning in the 1920s, currency design did not change until the mid 1990s when new security features had to be added curb counterfeit problems.

Advocacy groups continue to petition BEP to make the currency more accessible to the visually impaired. BEP has even been provided with studies of describing the features used by over 100 countries to include the visually impaired. The Reserve Bank of Australia has researched and developed the use of polymer notes with special security features with consideration for the visually impaired with great success.

Rather than implement one of existing technologies that are being used by over 100 countries and the European Union, BEP designers chose to increase the size of the “5” on the reverse of the new $5 note so that it would be visible to those with limited sight capabilities. Allegedly, the intaglio printing used on the note is supposed to help the blind. What the BEP does not mention is that once the note wears, the benefits of the intaglio printing disappear.

The BEP does not have the same design restrictions that is placed on the the US Mint (31 U.S.C. §5112). BEP can change the notes at any time for any reason. The only restriction on US currency is that the denominations must begin with one dollar (31 U.S.C. §5115(a)(2)). So why does BEP continue to discriminate against one class of Americans while continuing to producing an ugly product?

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