D.C. Circuit panel: paper money unfair to blind

by Walter Olson on May 20, 2008

The Washington Post reports, and Hans Bader at CEI’s Open Market discusses the 2-1 panel decision (PDF) upholding a lower court ruling. The case hinged on whether the prospective modifications to currency, which the National Federation of the Blind have criticized as unnecessary, would impose an “undue burden” under the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Randolph, in dissent: “There are approximately 7,000,000 food and beverage vending machines in the United States; by one estimate, it would cost $3.5 billion to retool or replace these machines.” Earlier here. More: Patterico.

{ 18 comments }

1 Richard Belzer 05.20.08 at 2:14 pm

Concurring Judge Griffith is a Bush 43 appointee, confirmed in 2005 by a vote of 73-24.

2 AZFlyer 05.20.08 at 7:44 pm

Changing the size of bills would be a disaster. It’s not just vending machines, but also ATMs and self service checkout units that are becoming popular at grocery and big box stores. When I use cash these days, I rarely hand it to a human.

My mother is blind and she thinks this is ludicrous. Much like the drive-through ATM at my bank that is equipped for visually impaired access.

3 VMS 05.20.08 at 7:54 pm

The Bible states (Leviticus 19:14): “You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind…” Why make the life of a person with a handicap harder than it needs to be when at no or minimal cost, they can be accommodated? The Secretary of the Treasury should have accommodated the blind without having to have been sued. And once sued, he should have voluntarily complied with an accomodation that allows the blind to distinguish currency while protecting the economic interests of the Government. I am irked that the Secretary is squandering government resources to litigate this matter. I even see the name of a high school classmate of mine, Peter Keisler (once nominated for the DC Circuit) doing the government’s dirty work for them.

I agree with the decision since the cost to make paper currency distinguishable to the visually impaired is minimal. The government’s argument to the contrary, that compliance will cost a gazillion dollars is pure rubbish. Likewise, the dissenting opinion of Judge Randolph on retooling vending machines is pure speculation. Surely the Secretary of the Treasury, his able-minded staff and the employees of the Mint should be able to devise a means to make form fit and function paper currency readable for the visually impaired at minimal added cost. If not, I could tell tehm how to do it.

4 nevins 05.20.08 at 10:42 pm

Money where your mouth is VMS. Do tell us how to do it ["devise a means to make form fit and function paper currency readable for the visually impaired at minimal added cost"]
Or were you just spouting off and have no clue what the hell you are talking about.

5 BEM 05.20.08 at 11:03 pm

Nevins, I am sure with all the technical know how here in America a way can be devised to develop a currency that has minimal impact on the vending machines. Then again given that there are idiots like you here in America maybe we won’t be able to develop a way. In that case lets just ask one of the many other countries that already have bills that have features that can be read by vending machines and be differentiated by blind people.

6 Taltos 05.21.08 at 12:11 am

While I don’t see any pressing need to change anything seeing as the blind seem to be functioning just fine the way things are, I strikes me that the simplest change would simply be to emboss the bill denominations in the upper corners of the bills.

7 Bill Poser 05.21.08 at 2:33 am

I don’t know the actual costs involved, but I wonder how significant some of them are. How many of those 7,000,000 bending machines even take banknotes? Of the ones that do, how many take only dollar bills? If dollar bills are left at their current size, only machines that accept multiple denominations of banknotes would need to be modified. I suspect that that is a fairly small percentage.

A second factor to consider is that the technology to do this already exists – it doesn’t have to be developed. Euro banknotes increase in size as denomination increases. They also use intaglio printing for the denomination, which can be sensed with the fingers, different colors, and different edging. Machines in the European Union can handle different-sized bills.

Third, if intaglio printing of the denomination is a sufficient accommodation, there is no need to make bills of different sizes. As far as I know, intaglio printing would not require any change in existing machinery.

8 stfoley 05.21.08 at 12:49 pm

Perhaps the answer is not to change the bills, but a device to read the number on the corners of the bills and read out the value aloud?

I’m just firing off options here….it may be more economically feasable to just offer such a device out once than it may be to re-tool all their machines to produce bills of different sizes.

9 Nikki Pratt 05.21.08 at 12:50 pm

My first thought was also that the bill sizes would have to be changed, an idea that I detest. However, there’s already alternative ideas sprouting up around the internet. One of the best ones I’ver read is to put threads in the bills to identify them.

10 teqjack 05.21.08 at 2:04 pm

I do think the Court was not correct in ignoring “third party” effects.

But I also do not think they need to be so bad. Changing bill sizes would be, but there are other ways.

For one thing, currency changed quite recently. For another, the US Mint is in the process of rolling out another set of alterations, includingg some additional colors.

OK, colors are not much of a help. But I recall experimentation with plastic and metal strips some years ago. With improved tech such may now be practical, and if so could vary with bill denomination. This would require (probably) only a small software change to the vending/bill-changer machines, unlike having a variety of sizes, and provide a tactile sensation for the blind.

11 Deoxy 05.21.08 at 2:34 pm

“There are approximately 7,000,000 food and beverage vending machines in the United States; by one estimate, it would cost $3.5 billion to retool or replace these machines.”

1) So? Since when do judges care abuot how much of OTHER people’s money their ridiculous decisions cost?

2) Wow – that’s $500 per machine. That’s pretty darn high.

VMS:

What part of “the prospective modifications to currency, which the National Federation of the Blind have criticized as unnecessary” do you not understand? When the people you are supposedly helping are asking you to not do what you’re doing, and you keep going, well, there aren’t any polite terms to use to describe your behaviour. “Arrogance” is one of the less rude ones.

12 Lawyer 05.21.08 at 3:35 pm

Couldn’t the government just buy every blind person a mini-scanner type of device that could read aloud the number on the bill? Could be cheaper, if such a thing exists.

13 VMS 05.21.08 at 3:46 pm

Punch one mm. holes in the currency. A $100 bill would get 1 hole, a $50 bill 2 holes, a 20, 3 holes a 10 4 holes, a 5 5 holes and a 1 6 holes. See why the numer of holes is smaller for the highest value of currency

14 KP 05.21.08 at 8:24 pm

Yay. More political correctness gone amok. I suppose these “judges” want US to pay for this as well.

15 Bumper 05.21.08 at 9:29 pm

The blind people I know are very active within the local and national blind community. They don’t think very much of this whole falderal. Other countries have made attempts to add features to money to make it easier to “read”, but apparently they are not worth the effort. Canada, for instance, has a special braille code on their bills but it is easily squashed and therefore not usable for very long.

On the other hand the argument of the government is pretty lame. Recently bills have been changed quite frequently.

So we are left with a national organization that is trying to “AARP” for their constituency and solve a problem that doesn’t exist versus a governmental bureaucracy that is, well, a bureaucracy.

16 my 2 cents 05.22.08 at 2:21 am

A few comments on the ideas here:

Intaglio printing is standard for most currency, including in the US, as it is harder to counterfeit. The raised ink can be felt on new bills, but not on older ones, so you will have to replace bills at least 4 times more often.

Plastic threads in bills are nothing new. Hold a $20 bill up to the light and look a 1/2″ from the left.

Putting holes in bills will cause stress concentrations and tearing in standard use. Basically they will just wear our faster. Plus the new bills will have to be substantially different from the old bills to keep people from punching holes in old bills and passing them as higher denominations.

17 stfoley 05.22.08 at 8:00 am

The holes in bills may be doable *IF* those holes are located where a broad plastic strip is embedded. This way the strip (that the holes are punched into) would reinforce the location so that the wear and tear such devices would inflict on the bill is lessened.

18 Adam J 05.22.08 at 5:28 pm

Deoxy – the plaintiff is an organization for the blind as well and has 4 other organizations as amicus briefs. NFB has two considerable conflicts of interest too, they are in a partnership with a company who makes the currency readers, and they also have a division called the National Association of Blind Merchants which would be adversely affected by the currency change (blind merchants receive priority for vending machines on public property under the Randolph Shepard Act).

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