Iowa blind advocates (Steve being one of them) disagree over court ruling on paper money

Advocates Disagree…(click for complete article)

Updated May 20. 2008 6:04PM
By Diane Heldt
The Gazette    

A federal appeals court ruling Tuesday that paper money — indistinguishable by touch — is discriminatory to blind people was hailed by some advocates as a long-awaited step forward, while others said a change is unnecessary and plays into negative stereotypes about the blind.

Blind people have adapted and often fold money to distinguish the bills, but no longer would have to rely on others to help them if the Treasury Department makes bills of different sizes or prints them with raised markings, supporters of a change said.

"What’s at issue here is the ability to identify money without other people helping you," University of Iowa English Professor Steve Kuusisto, who is blind, said. "My view is, the most accommodations possible help the most people. To be opposed to accommodations that help people is narrow."

The American Council of the Blind sued for such changes, but the government has been fighting the case for about six years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling could force the Treasury Department to alter money, though the ruling is subject to appeal.

But another large advocacy group, the National Federation of the
Blind, sided with the government and said no changes are needed.

The Iowa Department for the Blind shares that view.

One of the basic things the department teaches is money management,
Curtis Chong, director of field operations and access technology, said.
It is not difficult to fold the money, Chong, who is blind, said.
Moreover, he said, there are more important battles to be fought, such
as helping blind people find employment and increasing funding to

"Our frustration has always been that we want the government to
focus on the important things to help make people’s lives better," he
said. "If they have the money, they would have no trouble spending it."

Chong said the ruling "strikes at the very heart of people’s
perception about blindness" by playing into negative ideas. "If you
believe people can’t manage money, how can you believe they can be a
contributing member of the work force?" he said.

But backers of a change said assurance that blind people can tell
the difference by feel could mean more job opportunities in fields that
require money handling.

Kuusisto said the European Union has produced the euro and all bills
and coins are distinguishable. More than 100 other countries vary the
size of their bills. "It really is hard to imagine why changing it
would be a big deal," he said.

Rosa Mauer, a teacher at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in
Vinton, said distinguishable bills would be nice, but she understands
the concerns about cost.

"I see both sides," Mauer, who is visually impaired, said. "On one
hand what we have has worked for many years. But it would sure be nice
in an unfamiliar store with a clerk I don’t know to be handed a bill
and know instantly what it is just like everybody else."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
·  Contact the writer: (319) 339-3158 or

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “Iowa blind advocates (Steve being one of them) disagree over court ruling on paper money”

  1. Yet another example of how one organization is talking apples and another oranges. The argument here isn’t whether or not the government should be trying to help people find employment — it’s about independence. Not one person is arguing that folding money is a difficult process, but that the need to do such a thing relies on other people or technology that is not always reliable.
    Personally I don’t care one way or the other how the ruling goes, but at least argue the same topic if you’re going to bother debating.


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