Court: Dollars Need Differentiation for the Blind

Close your eyes and reach into your wallet. Can you tell the difference between a $5 and a $10 bill? No. And neither can people who are blind. Now, a federal judge is asking that something be added to paper money to make it distinguishable by touch, or by sound.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Our last word on business today involves money. The size of a five, the texture of a 20, the sound of a single. If you're blind, every U.S. paper bill is the same.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Yesterday, a U.S. district judge said that has to change. He ordered the Treasury Department to come up with some means to tell which bill is which, with different sizes, maybe raised ink, a bit of crinkly foil, something that allows blind people to tell the difference.

Melanie Brunson's group, The American Council of the Blind, worked on this case for four years.

Ms. MELANIE BRUNSON (The American Council of the Blind): I think it's 126 countries in the world who are already incorporating some sort of accessible features into their currency. And the United States has only made one concession in that regard, and that only helps some people with limited vision.

MONTAGNE: The United States stands alone, the judge said, in printing bills that are identical in size. The government has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the decision.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

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Is That a George Washington in My Pocket?

Dutch banknotes

These Dutch banknotes were designed with raised marks to help visually impaired people. Audrius Tomonis / Banknotes Images hide caption

itoggle caption Audrius Tomonis / Banknotes Images

You might not know who's buried in Grant's tomb, but you may soon know whether he's in your pocket. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department must include features on all banknotes to give visually impaired people access to money. (That includes Grant, who's on the $50 bill.)

"Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency," Judge James Robertson wrote in his decision, "only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations. Every other issuer includes at least some features that help the visually impaired."

If the U.S. changes dollar designs (the government has 10 days to appeal Robertson's decision), options include watermarks, different-sized bills — even different colors. Here’s how other countries do it.

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