US Must Justify Currency Redesign Delay in Blind Access Case

The US Treasury must justify its decision to delay revising paper currency to incorporate tactile features that may be used by the blind, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The D.C. Court of Appeals Wednesday reversed a lower court decision to allow the U.S. Treasury to push off the bill redesign another 10 or 20 years.

In 2002, the American Council for the Blind sued and won a decision that paper currency violates disability law by failing to make the denominations distinguishable for the eight to 12 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired. The court allowed the U.S. to come up with its own reasonable timeline to change.

The U.S. Treasury set the changes to occur between 2013 and 2018 when bills would be redesigned. But in 2016, the Bureau of the Currency pushed to changes on $10 bills back to 2026 to account for implementing anti-counterfeiting technology. It also left deadlines of 2028 for changes in the $5 bill, 2030 for the $20 and 2032 for the $50 and $100 notes.

The government has made some accommodations. The Bureau has changed all denominations to include larger numerals on all bills and some, the $5, $50 and $100 bills include high-contrast numbers.

It also produced free currency readers as a give-away key-fob device that reads and announces denominations by voice and has distributed and mobile phone app that will read currencies. Those have been downloaded roughly 100,000 times, a fraction of the total blind population.

The trial judge held that tying “meaningful access” to currency use would upset the timing for Treasury to produce the next anti-counterfeiting redesign.

The latest timeline will allow the Treasury Secretary to be in violation of the law for up to 20 years more than was expected.

The appeals court reversed saying the trial judge did not have enough evidence about the cost of decoupling the redesign timeline from the anti-counterfeiting design to make a decision.

The government had argued it would take billions to upgrade and change banknote equipment and it might require changes to ATM machines.

If the district court is to properly conclude that withholding access to paper currency for millions of visually impaired people for 20 years longer than expected because of financial burden on the government, “the district court needs more concrete estimates of the costs that matter,” wrote Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson for the panel.

Case: American Council of the Blind v. Mnuchin, 17-5013



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