Opinion: current currency leaves the blind in the dark

Amy Meyers ('13)/ Opinions Editor

The exchange of currency is a universal practice: passed from person to person, here to there, and object to object without making a large indentation in any particular individual’s life. Now, just imagine a world where people are shielded from the pure beauty of the colors of a bill and are only left to feel for the differences between them. Is there a difference between the textures of a one-dollar bill from a twenty-dollar bill? Could one determine what a bill was by touching it? No, it would be impossible to. Dollars are exactly the same in both material and size, which is why someone needs to address this pressing matter: differentiating texture between bills.

In the United States alone, 1.4 million Americans are forced to trust the honesty of strangers every day as they buy goods because they are simply unable to see or are so visually impaired that the bills look homogenous. Each United States bill, regardless of value, comes with the same format with little distinguishing features from another. Even with different colors, a purely blind citizen would be unable to classify bills.

Luckily, the coins in the United States monetary system range in difference sizes, widths and colors so that those who are visually impaired are able to feel the differences so they are able to know how a quarter varies from a dime. But those are merely change—pieces of currency that seem to matter so little to the average American and get lost within laundry or on the streets. The dollars, the pieces that carry the most value, should have distinguishing qualities from one another.

As a country, we are making these citizens vulnerable to less altruistic individuals. At any given moment, a clerk or waiter could take advantage of a visually impaired individual solely because they are unable to distinguish the difference between one bill from another.

ABC’s “What Would You Do?” had a special where a staged interaction between a blind individual and a cashier would occur and the hidden cameras would document the actions of the bystanders. Luckily, in each scenario, one individual who witnessed the event occur defended the blind man or woman to fight for their correct change, as the actor cashier would “steal” the money. But what if no civilian is around or is as brave as those who protected the blind citizen?

Therefore, the United States government should do one of two things: Vary the sizes of the bills, which would receive a wave of displeasure among those resistant to change, or include a particular mark that gives each bill a unique indentation that allows any visually impaired person to know which bill is which. Many other countries throughout the world are able to cater to the advantage of the visually impaired, so why is the American government behind?

“Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency,” Judge James Robertson wrote, “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 over 180 countries are able to help the visually impaired, what excuse does the United States government have to deprive these Americans of their right to fairness? Without an alteration to this currency, the blind will forever remain vulnerable to predators who will easily exploit them due to their lack of sight.