Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Money Matters

In all honestly, I must admit that at first I really wasn't quite sure exactly what to make of this.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by failing to design and issue currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a 2006 district court ruling that could force the United States to redesign its money so blind people can distinguish between values.

Suggested solutions include making bills different sizes, including raised markings or using foil printing which is a method of hot stamping that is tactically discernable.

Judge Judith Rogers, in a ruling on a suit by the American Council of the Blind, wrote that the Treasury Department's failure to design and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to the visually impaired violates the Rehabilitation Act's
guarantee of "meaningful access."
The ruling notes that although a large majority of other currency systems have accommodating the visually impaired, the US government was unable to explain why it's currency should be any different. Apparently with the euro, for example, each banknote has a predominant color and large numbers to make them easier to see. Also, the larger the denomination of the euro, the larger the banknote.

Which I thought was interesting as quite frankly, it wasn't something I had ever given too much thought to before. And yet, my initial reaction remained muted. Although I would consider myself a big advocate for those with disabilities, wasn't this asking a bit much? After all, what would be the cost involved in redesigning American currency?

And apparently, at least some in the blind community had similar concerns, questioning the cost and usefulness of any proposed measures.

Still, it motivated me to take a closer look at our Canadian currency. Which meant, firstly, that I had to lay my hands on some but that's a whole another story. I thought I vaguely remembered raised dots on some of the newer bills which I had always sort of assumed was some form of Braille. But when I was finally able to dig out some bills, I couldn't find any.

Looked like a case for a little more research.

Lo and behold, if our ever-vigilant government hadn't recently noted that our Canadian bills are gradually losing the little tiny bumps that havebeen placed in the upper right corner of bank notes introduced since 2001 that have helped the blind know what denomination they have in hand. Turns out that the raised dots are not braille, after all, but rather are arranged in patterns that a blind person can feel to quickly identify a denomination, from $5 to $100. Pretty cool.

But although the dots were specially treated to ensure they endured, apparently they've been flattening out with use and have become unreadable. Which would help explain why my quick examination of a few 5s and a few 20s showed no bumps. The 5s were too old and although on closer inspection they could indeed be found on the 20s, I really had to look for them.

Apparently, these newer bills also have other special features to help those with poor vision - larger numbers and contrasting colours - but the truly blind have no other option (outside of the raised bumps) with the exception of a device that reads the bill and indicates its denomination by tone, vibration or even voice. A device which is is provided free of charge by the Bank of Canada under a program that costs more than $250,000 a year.

Here in Canada, the option of producing bills of differing sizes, as some countries do, has been rejected as being too costly. So now the Bank of Canada is working on the problem for the next series of notes, which are also being revamped to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters.

Turning my mind back to the US bills, I recalled the one reason why I really mind American money - it's all the same colour. Now if that's enough to annoy me - for whom a second, closer look will solve the problem - I can only begin to imagine the challenge for the blind and visually impaired. Particularly when you add in no tactile features to help determine the value of each note.

And seeing as how currency tends to be revamped a fair bit anyways in an ongoing attempt to thwart the counterfeiters, perhaps it's not such an unreasonable demand to make after all.

H/T to Pipecleaner Dreams

1 comment:

Ashley's Mom said...

MMC, the Canadian perspective is interesting. I have had several people say that the money had Braille on it. I'm glad you checked.

I also have some mixed feelings on this. I've read of blind people who are frequently shortchanged by sighted people, and I guess that is the thing that really gets me angry.

Knowing my daughter will soon have to figure out the whole money thing as a blind person does, of course, make me lean towards wanting an accommodation. This is just one of those accommodations that isn't very easy to figure out.