Tuesday, May 20, 2008

D.C. Circuit Holds Paper Money Violates Rehabilitation Act

What a way to welcome me back! Today, in a very significant ruling that surely won't be the last word in the case, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit held that our current system of paper money denies meaningful access to people with visual impairments and thus violates the Rehabilitation Act. From Judge Rogers's majority opinion (joined by GWB appointee Judge Griffith):

Congress expressly intended the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that members of the disabled community could live independently and fully participate in society. 29 U.S.C. § 701(b)(1). The Secretary acknowledges that a paper currency system designed for the sighted means that millions of visually impaired individuals are dependent on the kindness of others, unless they purchase expensive electronic equipment, in using U.S. currency. Such dependence, which is amply supported by the record, constitutes a denial of meaningful access to U.S. currency that is not remedied by use of existing coping mechanisms. The record further demonstrates that the Secretary has not met his burden to show, as an affirmative defense, that each identified accommodation that is facially reasonable, effective, and feasible would impose an undue burden. A large majority of other currency systems have accommodated the visually impaired, and the Secretary does not explain why U.S. currency should be any different. The financial costs identified by the Secretary are not out of line with the costs associated with other currency changes that the Secretary has made and could be reduced were accommodations made as part of other planned changes. Further, this lawsuit seeks neither alteration of the system of using paper currency as such nor a specific accommodation dictated by court order, leaving the Secretary to choose the means of bringing U.S. currency into compliance with section 504. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of partial summary judgment and remand the case for the district court to address the request for injunctive relief.

From Judge Randolph's dissent:

In short, my colleagues have not identified a single accommodation that is undisputedly “reasonable, effective, and feasible,” Maj. Op. at 15, and for which there is no material issue about an undue burden. They do not know what if anything should be implemented as an accommodation and neither does the American Council of the Blind, the Treasury, the district court, or the National Federation of the Blind (who supports Treasury). Yet my colleagues affirm the grant of summary judgment against the Secretary. In doing so they state that because the Secretary did not show that every possible measure would impose an undue burden, he is barred on remand from showing that any particular measure would have this effect. Maj. Op. at 29-30, 33. This cannot possibly be correct.

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Blogger Ahistoricality said...

Hey, welcome back! Great timing, too.

Is there any chance this would survive review by the Supreme Court? They seem indomitably hostile to the ADA....

11:41 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I actually think the logic of the decision is pretty compelling, though they may be concerned with what they think are the costs of the D.C. Circuit's ruling. More likely, I think they just say they don't have jurisdiction until the lower courts actually issue a remedy.

8:30 AM  

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