On November 28, 2006, Judge James Robertson ruled in favor of the American Council of the Blind in the case "AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Henry M. Paulson, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury Defendant". Judge Robertson found that the inaccessibility of U.S. currency to the blind is a violation of Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. Key language from Section 504 in this matter is:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States...shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency, or by the U.S. Postal Service.
Yesterday the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Robertson's ruling. Writing for the majority opinion, Appeals court Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote (emphasis added):
The current design of paper money springs from the world of the sighted... Upon casual inspection anyone with good vision can readily discern the value of U.S. currency; yet even the most searching tactile examination will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill... Where the plaintiffs identify an obstacle that impedes their access to a government program or benefit, they likely have established that they lack meaningful access to the program or benefit... Where the basic task of independently evaluating the worth of currency in excess of 99 cents is difficult or impossible, the visually impaired are forever relegated to depend on 'the kindness of strangers' to shop for groceries, hire a taxi, or buy a newspaper or cup of coffee... The government might as well argue that there's no need to make buildings accessible to wheelchairs because handicapped people can crawl on all fours or ask passers-by for help.
See the Associated Press article Court says paper money biased against blind people and the New York Times article Blind Win Court Ruling on U.S. Currency. The folks at Our Money Too have a press release, and of course there is an American Council of the Blind press release.
From the Our Money Too release:
Furthermore, Judge Rogers noted that the Treasury Department's failure to produce currency that can be independently identified by blind and visually impaired Americans was an example of the very "thoughtlessness and indifference" that Congress sought to prevent when it subjected the federal government to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal government programs.