Issuing one-size dollar bills is unfair to the blind, US appeal court rules

The US government has been told to change the size or texture of its banknotes because it is difficult for blind people to tell them apart. A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that having all notes the same size and texture was unacceptable. The decision could force the Treasury to make bills of different sizes or print them with raised markings or other distinguishing features.

The court ruled that the government had failed to show that it would be too burdensome to make different bills for different denominations. "A large majority of other currency systems have accommodated the visually impaired and [Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson] does not explain why US currency should be any different," the judges wrote.

What happens next is not certain. The government could appeal to the full appeals court – one of whose judges, David Tatel, is blind – or seek quick review by the Supreme Court. "We are reviewing the court's ruling at this juncture," said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, which argued the case on behalf of the Treasury.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which makes America's paper money, is already researching ways to help the blind and visually impaired. The results will be available next year and will be considered when new production equipment was introduced.

This week's appeal was brought by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), which has been fighting for six years to have dollar notes changed. Treasury officials admit the current design hinders the visually impaired but say that blind people have adapted. According to documents filed in the case, 937,000 Americans are legally blind and a further 2.4 million have low vision, meaning they are unable to read newspaper print.

Some rely on shop assistants to help, some use credit cards and others fold certain corners of bills to distinguish between them.