The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has held that U.S. paper money violates the Rehabilitation Act because different denominations cannot be easily distinguished by blind and visually impaired people.
As the court notes, blind people are forced to resort to an "impressive array of coping mechanisms" such as folding different denominations in different ways or carrying an electronic scanning device at all times, in order to function in the marketplace. These coping mechanisms often require blind consumers to ask sighted persons for assistance in sorting or otherwise identifying their money, and make them easy victims of fraud.
Given these burdens, the court held that the blind lack "meaningful access" to U.S. currency in violation of Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In so holding, the court noted that one purpose of this act was to "empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society." Given this goal, the court held that a blind person cannot have meaningful access to currency "if she cannot accurately identify paper money without assistance."
As the Rehabilitation Act also requires the court to consider whether providing meaningful access to a benefit would place an "undue burden" on the government, the court also considered the burden which making money accessible to the blind would place on the government. According to the court, the total cost of such upgrades would be less than five percent of the total cost of currency production during the last two redesigns of U.S. currency. This, this court held, did not place an undue burden on the government.
As a final note, the court noted that America is unusual among its peer nations in not producing currency accessible to the blind:
The Euro varies in size based on denomination: the greater the value of the note, the greater the length. The i5, i10, i20, i50, and i100 notes also vary in height. Euro Vision, Understanding Euro Notes and Coins, a Guide for People with Poor Vision, [#35-26, at 5]. Euros also possess tactile features: each bill includes a large, raised numeral designed to be perceptible to touch, at least when the banknotes are new, id. at 4, and a foil feature that can be identified by touch; the foil feature on the smaller notes - i5, i10, i20 - is of a different shape and in a different location than those on the larger ones. Id. at 6.
The Swiss Franc contains intaglio digits and a perforated numeral that can be identified by touch. Copy of Swiss Bank Note, [#35-41]. Japan, in a new design for the Yen, has incorporated a tactile feature in the