CNN reported yesterday that a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by failing to design and issue currency that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired people. This decision upheld a ruling from 2006 and could possibly force the Treasury Department to redesign the US paper currency so blind and visually impaired people can readily distinguish the bill denominations.
US currency has long been a sore point for blind Americans, who have to rely on other people to tell them the denomination of the bills they have. This can lead to big problems with unscrupulous store clerks or other people more concerned with making a dishonest buck than being a decent human.
The federal appeals court upheld the ruling that the current versions of the currency are in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is intended to afford disabled people the same civil rights and opportunities afforded everyone in American society.
Unfortunately, the US Treasury Department has never done a complete overhaul of their currency to align it within the realm of this law. There are a few world currencies that are doing things differently. Perhaps the US could learn from them.
The Euro was designed with consideration for the blind
The European Union designed the different denominations of the Euro to have large, easily identifiable numbers and gradually increase in size as the denominations increase in value. This makes the bills easily distinguishable to those who are either blind or visually impaired. In fact, the European Blind Union was consulted extensively during the design of the Euro bills.
In addition to the large numbers, contrasting colors, and notes that increase in size as the value increases, banknotes are printed in relief, using an intaglio printing press. The €200 and €500 banknotes are printed in a raised ink relief to give the notes a distinctive tactile feel along their edges.
Possible Changes to US Currency?
According to CNN, the suggested solutions include making bills different sizes, including raised markings or using foil printing which is a method of hot stamping that leaves a noticeable impression on the bill.
Will the US redesign its currency?
It is too early to tell at this point, but if the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law, it is possible they may be forced to make some drastic changes.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing recently contracted with a research firm to conduct a study to find a possible solution to this problem. However, the results of the study will not be available until early 2009. Whatever the result, I imagine it would cost the US government hundred of millions of dollars (if not several billion dollars) to redesign the currency and retool the printing facilities.
However, with counterfeit currency such a huge problem, this may be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. If the US is required to make wholesale changes to its currency, I think the Australian Dollar would be a great currency to model it after.
The Australian Dollar and its anti-counterfeiting measures
Australian notes are printed entirely out of polymer plastic. This helps with counterfeit prevention and ensures the bills last longer in hot, humid climates. The first Australian polymer notes were printed in1988, and were rolled into production to replace old notes in the following years. This started a trend and now several nations use similar polymers for their currency.
Security features: The security features on the Australian notes are so good, the Reserve Bank of Australia has stated they are not aware of anyone being able to accurately forge the currency.
In general, polymer banknotes have more security features available to them than regular paper notes, including: microprinting, a clear window with a picture in it (similar to a watemark, but much more difficult to reproduce), embossing, intaglio and offset printing, different colors on the obverse and reverse of the note, and security threads that can be magnetized, fluorescent, phosphorescent, microprinted, clear text, or windowed.
Watch how the Australian Dollar is made (if reading through a feedreader or e-mail, you may need to click through to watch the video, or go to YouTube):
I thought that was pretty cool!
More world currency reading: