Saturday, October 11, 2008

Court to decide money's appearance to help the visually impaired

The next generation of dollar bills may not look or feel the same as the ones in your pocket.An ongoing federal appeals court decision may phase out the current design of American paper money, switching it to a revamped paper currency that is more accessible to the blind and those with limited vision.Judge James Robertson of the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. ruled in 2006 that the U.S.

Treasury Department failed to "design, produce and issue paper currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired" people, which violates federal law under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.The currency designs in use are the same size and shape, said Sue Ann Hansford, a counselor for the Division for Blind Services located at Texas Tech.She said there is no inherent way to distinguish between the different values of paper currency.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals returned the issue back to the district Court for further consideration, Judge A. Raymond Randolph said in his dissension that it would cost $3.5 billion to replace food and beverage vending machines and ATMs.No final decision about whether or not to change U.S. paper currency has been made, but Jeff Lovitky, an attorney for the American Council of the Blind, said he expects Judge James Robertson to issue an order in the next few weeks that will develop the case further.

"I think the only real opposition to it in the past is that it will be a tremendous expense to fix a situation for a small population," said Larry Phillippe, managing director of Tech's Student Disabilities Services.The 2006 National Health Interview Survey reported a total of 21.2 million people in the United States responded that they were blind or unable to see at all or had trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported an estimated U.S. population of less than 300 million people in 2006. Thus, blind and visually impaired individuals comprised about 7 percent of the population in that year.Faith Penn, a visually impaired senior public relations major from Dallas, said she has been able to function adequately without currency that has different sizes, shapes or colors.Penn was born with glaucoma and lost her working vision in 2006.

She said she has been cheated by dishonest cashiers in the past, but she used the experience to become a stronger, more assertive customer."If you're getting change back from a cashier," she said. "and you don't know what you're getting back, ask the cashier."Also, she said she folds her money so she can recognize the difference between bills of different values."I don't think the world needs to cater to us," Penn said.And it may not.Lovitky said nothing is certain because the council is "in the middle" of a legal battle.


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