American Blind People's Federation? Feh. We're the Blind People's Federation of America!

In a puzzling New York Times op-ed piece, Marc Maurer objects to a federal judge's ruling that the U.S. government is illegally discriminating against blind people by failing to design paper money so they can distinguish different denominations by touch. The piece is puzzling because Maurer is the president of the National Federation of the Blind, which is suing Target for failing to make its website easily accessible to blind people. Maurer calls the currency case, which is supported by the American Council of the Blind, "frivolous litigation" while characterizing his group's Target lawsuit as a straightforward application of the nondiscrimination principle:

Discrimination occurs when the blind are barred from enjoying benefits, goods or services. This definition of discrimination is what most people understand the word to mean. If a landlord refuses to rent an apartment to someone because of race, color, creed or disability, then discrimination occurs. Sometimes people with disabilities are barred from certain facilities or services because of the way they are designed. A person in a wheelchair cannot climb the steps of a public building; if the building does not have a wheelchair ramp, that person is prevented from entering it. In another example, my group is suing the Target Corporation because the company’s Web site doesn’t accommodate the special text-reading software that the blind use to surf the Internet. In both cases, a person with a disability is kept out of a public place or denied use of a service, just as African-Americans were not welcome at whites-only lunch counters.

But while blind people cannot identify paper currency by touch, that does not prevent us from spending money. When we hand merchants our money, they take it and provide us with the goods or services we have paid for, no questions asked. People with whom we transact business provide us with correct change if needed, and we then organize the money in a manner that allows us to identify it in the future. We transact business in this way every day.

By the same logic, the unfriendly design of Target's website does not prevent blind people from buying stuff. They can ask sighted people for assistance in navigating the site (just as they can ask sighted people for help in counting money); they can shop at Target in person; they can even shop at other online stores that are easier to use, voting with their dollars against Target's discriminatory website. By contrast, since the government has a legally enforced monopoly on printing money, blind people can't simply use a competing currency that features raised symbols or different denominations in different sizes (although they can use cash alternatives such as credit and debit cards). I'm not completely convinced that redesigning U.S. currency makes sense, but surely the argument for demanding accommodation of the handicapped is stronger when you're dealing with a government monopoly than it is when you're dealing with one of many competing private companies. Am I missing something? Is there a longstanding feud between the National Federation of the Blind and the the National Council of the Blind?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    People with whom we transact business provide us with correct change if needed, and we then organize the money in a manner that allows us to identify it in the future. We transact business in this way every day.

    And they're hopefully very very trustworthy....

  • ||

    Just a question, not meant to have an assumed answer. How much would it cost to slightly redesign paper money to have simple braile numbers in one corner? Would that be hard to do or expensive? I do not think that would inconvienience the sighted.

  • Warren||

    SPLITTERS!

  • ||

    Braille dots would wear off the money, no? How about different sizes or shapes for the bills? Is that too much to ask?

  • ||

    Totally off-topic, courtesy of the VC: A British study points the way to the next logical step after outlawing knives.

  • Sam Franklin||

    I got curious as to why they have braille numbers on the atm and credit card reader keypads. I was curious as to whether that was the result of Congression action, a court case, or was purely a private sector initiative. So I started looking in to that with GOOGLE.

    Did not find any answers on why atms got braille, but I did find a litigation run amok story (Canadian) that displeased me mightily. Apologies if it has been blogged here before, but I am referring to the "Talking ATM" litigation in Canada and the US. Wikipedia account:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_ATM

    This is pretty interesting story, but pretty frustrating, too.

  • Pastafarian Pirate||

    Having bills different sizes might also make it easier for sighted people to organize bills. It might make life more difficult for people who make vending machines though.

  • Dave B.||

    I'd think that making it easier to tell bills apart would make things easier for vending machine designers.

  • ||

    Well, the answer could be found here.

    The lawsuit seeks changes to the Web site, an admission of the alleged violations by the company, and an undesignated amount of damages to plaintiffs as well as attorneys' fees.

  • ||

    The mint currently inserts a small plastic band into larger bills. I can't see how it would be much more difficult to insert some plastic dots, or just dimple the band.

    I'll bet the farm they chose the most impractical expensive solution, though. One that will require the entire redesign of everything from cash registers, to vending machines, to wallets. Well, maybe not wallets. We'll see.

  • ||

    Let me clarify, if there isn't money to be made than the lawsuit is frivolous.

  • Charles||

    I believe that ATMs have braille so that people who are far-sighted can use them -- people whose vision is fine for driving, but who can't make out anything closer than the length of their arms.

  • ||

    Let's switch to all coins. It would also be harder to counterfeit.

  • Warren||

    No! Let's switch to plastic. The treasury should issue debit cards.

  • ||

    Been there, done that, got the fraud.

  • ||

    [A] person with a disability is kept out of a public place or denied use of a service, just as African-Americans were not welcome at whites-only lunch counters.



    Uh, so, failing to spend thousands of dollars to conform to ADA is equivalent to voluntarily enforcing Jim Crow discrimination and segregation? Somebody call Godwin. I'd like a ruling on this one.

  • ||

    Charles, how many far sighted people bother to learn Braille? Not many I guess unless they have a blind family member. Most far sighted people just buy glasses or contacts. Blind people do not have that option.

  • ||

    The question is, how can I redifine any of my short comings or physical flaws to make me a specially protected group like blind people? If you can't beat them, join them. I am looking to sue some motherfuckers and get paid.

    I have a fast metobolism, so I eat a lot of food. Can I sue places that charge me more for extra food, the same way fat people sue not to have to purchase an additional seat on a plane?

    Next time I am on the subway, I am going to demand my own private car (I have personal space issues, you see), and when the TTC looks at me like I am crazy, I will make some totally exploitive statement about "black people not being allowed at lunch counters".

    Can I join the National Federation of the Blind if I can see? When they tell me that I can't join because my eyesight is 20/20, I will explain to them, that like your sex in NYC, being a blind person isn't a function of anatomy, but a personal lifestyle choice.

  • ||

    ATMs have braille on them because it's not cost-efficient to make two sets of number pads for drive-up and walk-up machines.

  • Taktix||

    Besides roads, the aquaducts, sanitation, literacy, security, a currency system and peace, what have the non-visually-impared ever done for us?

  • ||

    Can anyone think of the most impractical solution to this?
    My contribution would be money that yells "I am a 100 dollar bill" when a button is pressed.

  • Jennifer||

    Threadjack: I wanted to share the incredibly amusing Google ad I found RIGHT NEXT to this here post:

    At Risk Females
    Teenage Girls & Young Women 800.868.2148 Get Help Now

    Yep, that's an ad that's sure to get a lot of hits from Hit and Run's audience.

    Oh, as to the topic at hand: I like the idea of Braille dots on paper money.

  • ||

    Jonathan, I would suggest moving to the The Triganic Pu, subdivided into eight Ningis. The Ningi is a "triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles a side" It could thus easily be distinguished.

  • ||

    Jonathan -

    Don't forget to include this in the new talking money:

    Press 1 for English, Oprime dos para Espanol, etc, etc, etc..

  • ||

    Or we could just join the Euro. You do not have to join the European Union to join the Euro. Two countries who use it are not Members. It would have the side benefit of helping to protect against counterfit (more governments would be interesting in helping to crack down on it) and if the Middle East Governments switch to the Euro it will not harm us at all because they would have to switch anyway.

  • Antarctic Penguin||

    To clarify, if the Middle East governments use the Euro for Oil transactions

  • Guy Montag||

    I caught a whif of it in the ATM posts, but more to my thought, why is there braille on the drive-through at fast food places?

  • ||

    I'm sorry but I just don't see the point.

  • Joe||

    Braille dots or odd shapes would probably cause a problem for banks, with their cash sorting, counting, and handling machines. Those bills tend to be packed pretty tight. Maybe a simple bar code or similar marking that could be read by a cheap handheld machine? But then I think they have those for the current money.

  • ||

    I once stole a pornographic book that was printed in braille. I used to rub the dirty parts

  • miche||

    A wee bit OT, but Medical Economics has a look at the ADA and MCAT scores. I have no issue with the blind counting cash, but I want my doc to be able to read my med recs accurately.

  • George Tenet Fangirl||

    Is Target really so dense that they have to be sued just to make a disability-friendly web site? Sheesh. There are plenty of sighted folks who appreciate it when web sites give the option of a text-only version, and putting one together should rarely be a hassle for a competent web developer.

  • ||

    Braille dots or odd shapes would probably cause a problem for banks, with their cash sorting, counting, and handling machines.

    The last series of Deutschmark bills had Braille and, to my knowledge, caused no trouble for ATMs or currency counters.

  • Guy Montag||

    Just now remembering this. When I was a kid we were told, on occasion, that blind people could feel the difference in the bottom center of the bill. I thought there were a few public service shows about blindness in general that included this.

    Could be my aging memory or could be something that was done before that these young hipsters are not aware of.

  • ||

    "ATMs have braille on them because it's not cost-efficient to make two sets of number pads for drive-up and walk-up machines."


    That's not my memory. From this website: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_010.html

    "Drive-up ATM buttons are marked with braille because federal regulations require it. To be specific, section 4.34.4 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (Appendix to Part 1191, 36 CFR Chapter XI, issued pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) says, "Instructions and all information for use [of an automated teller machine] shall be made accessible to and independently usable by persons with vision impairments." Drive-up ATMs, unlike the walk-up variety, don't need to be wheelchair accessible, but the rules make no exception regarding accessibility by the blind."

  • R C Dean||

    Is Target really so dense that they have to be sued just to make a disability-friendly web site?

    Maybe they figured the cost wasn't worth whatever extra business it might generate.

    There are plenty of sighted folks who appreciate it when web sites give the option of a text-only version, and putting one together should rarely be a hassle for a competent web developer.

    I honestly don't know - how is "text-only" accessible to blind people?

  • ||

    I honestly don't know - how is "text-only" accessible to blind people?

    Text-only sites can be read by software that then creates an audio signal of the text...

  • ||

    Does he have any idea how many government websites do not meet his requirements also? Sigh if only we could hold gubmint accountable to the same standards as industry. . .

  • I.Self.Divine.||

    They have special software that reads the text to them...the graphics heavy pages make it difficult or impossible for this to be done.

  • I.Self.Divine.||

    that was in response to gaijin.

  • Warren||

    I suspect the reason US bills don't have braille is the extreme durability standards we subject them to. US bills must withstand a gauntlet of tests, including a crumple test where a bill is rolled tightly, then inserted into a cylinder and crushed with a ramrod, then removed, rolled the other way, and crushed again.

  • ||

    Scott Wood:

    My only hope is that those blind users of drive-up ATMs are passengers, not drivers. YIKES!

  • Sam Franklin||

    "Instructions and all information for use [of an automated teller machine] shall be made accessible to and independently usable by persons with vision impairments."

    Thanks for the info, Scott Wood.

    This seems like an example of a good regulation (except maybe the lack of an exemption for drive up ATMs). Any libertarian purists out there who think that the government requirement for braille on ATMs is a bad thing?

  • ||

    "Text-only sites can be read by software that then creates an audio signal of the text..."

    Most folks don't know this, but the ubiquitous and free Adobe Reader can read the text of PDF document to you. Text only is good for other stuff too. If you have a website and want to know how the googlebot sees it, look it over with a text only browser like Lynx. If you have trouble navigating with a text browser, then you are likely getting a bad crawl and subsequently a bad google rating.

    And text only browsers are easy to launch and navigate from a Unix shell. Many use common VI or EMACS navigation commands.

  • ||

    Is Target really so dense that they have to be sued just to make a disability-friendly web site?

    I'm tempted to buy R C Dean's retort:

    Maybe they figured the cost wasn't worth whatever extra business it might generate.

    Personally, though, I think the answer can be found in the second half of George Tenet Fangirl's comment:

    ...putting one together should rarely be a hassle for a competent web developer.

    The fact is that even now, in the futuristic year of 2006, most Web developers are incompetent. My current project involves working on an existing Web application. The people who "designed" it are idiots, plain and simple. There is no defense for continuing the practice of controlling layout by using tables within tables within tables.

  • yep||

    Any libertarian purists out there who think that the government requirement for braille on ATMs is a bad thing?

    That's a no-brainer - of course it's a bad thing. You're forcing businesses to cater to customers they may not want and/or need.

    As someone alluded to above, if Target doesn't want to cater to blind users of their web site, that's their decision. If may cost more to implement a text-only site than they anticipate making in return through the increase in potential customers.

    Do you want braille menus provided at restaurants? This sounds like "a Good Thing", so who could be against it? The folks who don't believe it's a cost they wish to incur, that's who...

    ATM manufacturers and/or banks should have the same rights as the rest of us - i.e., not to be forced to do something just because someone else thinks it's a good idea.

  • ||

    I'm not completely convinced that redesigning U.S. currency makes sense, but surely the argument for demanding accommodation of the handicapped is stronger when you're dealing with a government monopoly than it is when you're dealing with one of many competing private companies.

    Makes sense to me.

  • ||

    Absent a wheelchair ramp. a disabled person cannot enter a public building. QED the public must pay for wheelchair ramps to accomodate them , lest it burden their lives. Absent indoor smoking areas, members of the public who smoke cannot long remain in public buildngs, therefore ....

  • Larry A||

    I'm not completely convinced that redesigning U.S. currency makes sense, but surely the argument for demanding accommodation of the handicapped is stronger when you're dealing with a government monopoly than it is when you're dealing with one of many competing private companies.

    Only if you pretend that the government follows the rules it imposes on the rest of us.

  • ||

    Hi
    Giving the need to redesign the notes to accomodate visually impaired individuals, can these notes be made with some kind of plastic/ material which can be shapped with numbers and which do not get destroyed over time? raised numbers with some kinda special material might be one option.

    The other could be making unique coins in 5, 10 and 20 dollar denominations accessible for visually impaired customers ?

    I have insurance cards which are sent in a special kind of material which do not get torn.. may be raised numbers on this kinda material could help.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement