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Blind Justice

Does the Treasury Department discriminate against Americans who are blind? U.S. District Judge James Robertson thinks it does, at least when it comes to printing money. Robertson ruled that the Treasury's paper money format violates the Rehabilitation Act, a 1973 law prohibiting government programs from discriminating on the basis of disability. The judge ordered the government agency to change the way it prints currency to give people who are blind an easy way of distinguishing one denomination from another.

"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," Robertson wrote in his opinion. "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." The ruling came after a four-year lawsuit brought by The American Council of the Blind.

Government attorneys argued that changing the size or texture of money would be expensive and cited the costs of equipment upgrades and increased annual expenditures. But consider that, since 1990, the U.S. Treasury Department has invested billions to alter the look and feel of paper money in an effort to prevent counterfeiting. Treasury moneymakers have incorporated security threads and microprinting, increased the size of the portraits, and added hints of color. The redesigned $50 and $20 bills are already in circulation; new $10 bills are due this year, and the $5 changes should come out in 2008. So with all the modifications they were making to our currency, why didn't Treasury officials address the known problem of helping people who are blind easily tell bills apart?

Some will undoubtedly say that the ruling is the product of another in a long list of frivolous lawsuits. But thank goodness, for all Americans who are visually impaired, in Judge Robertson's courtroom justice is indeed blind.
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