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The President’s Message

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By: Charles Glaser, President
(Vendorscope Summer 2009) Issue

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There has been much said about the recent court ruling regarding designing the currency of the United States to make it discernable to people who are blind without any form of assistance. On the surface this seems like a reasonable accommodation. Right? Let's look at the bigger picture. We do not know what method the Department of the Treasury would adopt to achieve this mandate. This lack of information limits our ability to determine many impact factors. So we must look at what we do know.

It is reported that two hundred other countries have currency that is identifiable without the use of vision. This information would lead us to believe that the technology for manufacturing and handling large sums of different forms of currency has already been developed. Prior to the late 90's and for more years than most of us would like to remember US currency was unchanged at least as far as the average person could tell. In the last decade the appearance of denominations larger than the one dollar bill have been changed at least a couple of times. There is obviously a cost associated with these changes. Would the cost of making US currency identifiable to everyone be consistent with the already established budget? We don't know. I'm sure that the cost of transitioning to newly designed currency will be thoroughly investigated and there may be a cost for equality. Fortunately, in this country the benefit of equality out weighs the cost.

Now let's look at the financial impact on the private sector, the vending industry in particular. I believe a case can be made that this change would have little or no impact on most vending operations. I recently read that only fifteen percent of vending machines accept currency in denominations larger than a one dollar bill. Remember that through previous changes in US currency the one dollar bill has remained unchanged. It is reasonable to assume that this practice would be continued. It is also likely that the vending machines that do accept large denomination bills are among the highest volume machines. We as vending managers are aware of the limited life expectancy of the bill acceptors in our machines. The bottom line is that most of our equipment will need to be replaced or refurbished before the government designs, manufactures and starts distributing accessible currency and there is widespread usage of the new currency.

What effect would being able to identify money by touch in addition to sight have on the part of society that is not blind? A few years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Hong Kong. One thing I observed was that Hong Kong is so densely populated that people do not cross streets at corners. They cross in the middle of the block and then only half way. There is a holding area in the center where people wait to cross the remainder of the street. Hong Kong uses visual signals but also has clapper signals which were likely originally installed to aid blind people in crossing safely. As I stood in the holding area waiting to cross I heard the clapper speed up signaling the light had changed and it was safe to cross. What was unique was I did not see one person look at the light. Everyone continued their conversations and just started walking. The point is that what may have started out as an accommodation to some is now accepted as a benefit to everyone.

How could this relate to accessible currency? From a sighted person's perspective imagine being in a dark restaurant, movie theater or car and needing to pay the bill, give the kids money for popcorn or pay a toll at night. I don't think many sighted people fold their money as blind people do. They would wave the money around trying to find a glimmer of light to identify what denomination the bills are. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out how long it would take for sighted people to adapt to this new and more convenient method of identifying their money in dimly lit places?

Well I don't know if it takes a rocket scientist but fortunately I have a friend who is one. So I asked him. He said initially it would be a curiosity seeing and feeling the new money and he would unconsciously make a mental note of the differences in the bills. He said the first time he was faced with a situation where visually identifying money was difficult he may not trust his memory but by the second time he would have mentally made the association. Rocket Science talk but you get the idea. I knew this guy had to be good for something other than spending billions of dollars on toys just to shoot them into outer space.

An argument has been made that making US currency universally identifiable in some way cast a negative image of blind people's ability to function in a sighted world. Does anyone think that a sighted person would think less of a blind person if the blind person didn't have to ask them if this was a 5 or a 10? Do we think less of people in wheelchairs because now they can cross streets and enter buildings like everyone else? Are deaf persons thought less of because they read the dialogue on television rather than hear it? Of course not.

There are surely many other factors that could be discussed regarding a transition to accessible currency but when the rubber meets the road the real question is: If life can be made better for one segment of the population without harming the rest, why not?

 

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