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Issue Date: Vol. 48, No. 5, May 2008, Posted On: 5/21/2008

Federal Appeals Court Rules Banknotes Discriminate Against Blind; NAMA Considers Next Action

Emily Jed

CHICAGO (May 21, 2008) — A federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that the U.S. discriminates against blind people by printing paper banknotes that provide no means for them to distinguish bills’ values. The original ruling was made in 2006, and could compel the Treasury Department to redesign paper money. In response to the federal court decision, the National Automatic Merchandising Association said it will immediately look into steps necessary to protect the industry.


“This decision could impose a tremendous financial hardship on our members who would be forced to spend hundreds of dollars on each machine so the new currency could be accepted,” said NAMA president and chief executive Richard M. Geerdes. “In addition, it is sure to translate into higher prices for everyone, as the costs associated with refitting and even manufacturing completely new machines are eventually passed along to consumers who will be forced to spend more money for the same products.”


Industry experts estimate that it would cost $200 to $300 to retrofit each vending machine equipped with a bill validator.


The first lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Treasury by the American Council of the Blind in Washington, DC. It argued that U.S. currency should be redesigned to help the blind and visually impaired distinguish among denominations. NAMA responded and filed a brief during the trial, noting that a decision to change U.S. currency would cost the industry substantial amounts.


On appeal from the decision against the U.S. Treasury, NAMA filed an amicus brief on behalf of its members reiterating the harm that it could do to the industry. Automatic vending, represented by NAMA, was the only industry that filed a brief opposing the change, although a host of other industries would be affected.


“We will be meeting with leaders from across the industry immediately and will look into what exactly this decision means, and what our next steps should be,” Geerdes said.


The National Federation of the Blind has criticized the proposal, pointing out that blind people have developed ways to identify denominations by folding bills in different ways.


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