Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Money for the Blind

Money for the Blind

You may have heard or read that a federal court ruled that US currency is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), because it provides no reliable way for blind people to be able to tell the various denominations apart. The court ordered the US Treasury Department to come up with a solution.

The Treasury Department, not surprisingly, pointed out that a serious, significant overhaul of American currency could massively disrupt the economy, which has come to expect standard-sized bills for things like cash-register drawers, vending machines, ATMs, etc.

This is the sort of thing that gets my mind going, and I believe I’ve come up with a compromise plan that would work, while keeping all interests reasonably satisfied.

First off, a review of where we currently are. These are our coins:
 • 1¢ (Abraham Lincoln; cent or penny)
 • 5¢ (Thomas Jefferson; nickel)
 • 10¢ (Franklin D. Roosevelt; dime)
 • 25¢ (George Washington; quarter)
 • 50¢ (Liberty, Benjamin Franklin, or John F. Kennedy; half dollar)
 • $1 (Liberty, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony, or Sacagawea)
And these are our bills:
 • $1 (George Washington)
 • $2 (Thomas Jefferson)
 • $5 (Abraham Lincoln)
 • $10 (Alexander Hamilton)
 • $20 (Andrew Jackson)
 • $50 (Ulysses S. Grant)
 • $100 (Benjamin Franklin)
 • $500 (William McKinley) *
 • $1,000 (Grover Cleveland) *
 • $,5000 (James Madison) *
 • $10,000 (Salmon P. Chase) *
 • $100,000 (Woodrow Wilson) *

* no longer in circulation; never in public circulation to begin with

So here’s my plan:

(1) Withdraw from circulation the 1¢ coin. We don’t really need the penny any more. It’s more of a nuisance coin, as evidenced by the penny-exchange cups at checkout counters everywhere. Indeed, Congress recently had to pass legislation to keep people from melting pennies down, because they’re worth more now for their copper content than for their face value.
(2) At the same time, withdraw the $1, $2, and $5 bills. Mint more $1 coins as part of the replacement process.

(3) Institute a new $5 coin featuring Abraham Lincoln.

(4) Issue new currency with holes in it: 5 holes for the $10, 4 for the $20, 3 for the $50, 2 for the $100. Leave the 1-hole option available for when inflation eventually makes the $500 bill a viable denomination again. The holes should be of different sizes and arranged in different shapes for each denomination.

Blind people would be able to tell the new denominations by feel, but the bills would still physically fit in all the places that have come to expect them. Having more holes for the smaller bills means that counterfeiters can’t artificially increase their apparent value by punching more holes in them. And there’s no easy way to UNpunch a hole.

Now, could some unscrupulous person hoard up a bunch of, say, spanking new $5 bills of the old style, punch 2 holes in them once the new currency is available, and try to pass them off to blind people as C-notes? Yup. So my plan wouldn’t be a perfect solution. But it would still be better than what we’re doing now, and eventually these fake bills would all be confiscated.

Would the holes cause the bills to wear out faster, make them more prone to tearing, etc.? Probably. But our present paper money is made of pretty sturdy stuff as it is to forestall those very problems. A few more tweaks (and possibly some additional embedded fibers), and we should have this one licked as well.

At the same time the new, “holey” currency is issued, the Treasury should make it more palatable to sighted people as well by adopting different colors for the different denominations. This way everybody wins.

So I think solutions are available. Of course, the Treasury apparently has chosen not to avail itself of them and is instead intending to fight the court order. *sigh*


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