Jerry Berrier is a serious bird guy. In 35 years of birding, Mr.
Berrier has clocked countless hours trolling the outdoors, listening
for the faintest of hums. At his home in Shrewsbury, Mass., he even
hooked his computer speakers to microphones in the backyard so he
can record the songs of visiting birds. (He uploads these to his
Today, Berrier can identify 35 to 40 birds by their song. But if
you put a few crisp bills in his hand, he couldn't tell a $1 bill
from a $20 bill. That's because Berrier is blind, and US bills are
all the same size and texture.
But paper money could get a makeover that would help people like
Berrier. Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that
the Treasury Department had to consider changing paper currency so
denominations could be easily identified by the blind. Current bill
design amounts to discrimination, the judge wrote.
Surprisingly, the ruling was not universally embraced by the more
than 10 million blind and visually impaired people in America. While
few deny that having differentiated bills would make life easier,
some say the lawsuit sends a message that the blind are helpless.
Opponents also say it detracts from other problems blind people
face, such as unemployment and lack of Internet access.
The United States is alone among more than 180 countries in
having paper currency that is identical in size and color, the judge
wrote. Potential changes to the currency include embossing, punching
holes, notching, or making the bills different sizes. The Treasury,
which has until the end of this week to appeal the decision, has
argued that any change would be costly - estimates range from $75
million for equipment and $9 million in annual expenses to punch
holes to $178 million in one-time charges and $50 million in annual
expenses to print different-size bills.
Berrier calls the ruling "one of the biggest steps forward taken
for people who are blind." He remembers accidentally giving a pizza
delivery man a $20 tip instead of a $1. (The man told him about the
mistake.) When he receives change, Berrier usually stuffs it all in
his pocket. At home, his wife identifies bills for him.
Berrier, like many blind people, then uses a folding system,
because machines that read denominations aloud are unreliable and
expensive ($300). He does not fold $1 bills; he folds fives in half
lengthwise, tens in half widthwise, and the twenties twice.
Fellow Massachusetts resident David Ticchi, who uses a different
folding system, is not against bills of different sizes. But he's
concerned the lawsuit sends a message that blind people can't handle
currency - an impression he says might hurt blind job seekers by
raising employers' concerns about accommodation costs. "Our problem
is earning money, not identifying it," Mr. Ticchi says.
Ticchi, a teacher and special assistant to the president of a
large Boston-based seafood restaurant chain, says he is proactive
about handling money. When he recently bought $27.45 worth of
groceries, he told the cashier: "Out of $50. That's $22.55 coming
back." Announcing the bill and the change shows competence, he says. …