It's Blind Trust When the Visually Impaired Go Shopping

You wouldn't think of signing a credit card receipt without knowing the amount charged to the card, and you'd never pay with cash and not know how much money you gave the sales clerk and how much you change you got back. But, to one degree or another, that is pretty much how most transactions go for the blind and visually impaired. Rod Rice reports.
A recent survey found that out of 171 countries only one has paper currency that is all the same size and all the same color. The good ole us. This means that the blind and visually impaired need coping mechanisms to engage in commerce. Oh and trust too. Lots of trust. Madeline Spring of Ft. Worth, folds her bills.

"I don't fold my ones at all, I fold my fives half over and I fold my ten's lengthwise. I fold my twenty's length wise and fold them back over."

That worked until her eyesight worsened and now she needs someone to tell her initially what kind of bills she has. Now trust is a factor. Like the time she used a twenty, folded length wise and then back over, to buy something.

"I said and this is a twenty and he said no ma'am that's a ten. You know somebody gave it to me and told me it was a twenty or that man took it and said no it's a ten."

John Grosnick of Houston relies on help from his wife, otherwise...

"The credit card is what I use."

But he can't really see the card receipt he has to sign.

"I'm trusting them that they're going to be doing the right thing."

And people always do the right thing — don't they.

Christy Plazinich is the receptionist at The Lighthouse of Houston, a non-profit rehabilitation center for the blind and visually impaired. She used to simply separate her paper money.

"Before I got this wallet I would just put it in different parts of my wallet."

She now uses a wallet designed for the blind that has compartments with flaps that looks like three separate change holders.

"This part here's for different amounts of money depending on what you have, like ones, fives or tens."

Technology can help here. Money readers are an inch thick a bit wider and another inch longer than a dollar bill. You slide the bill into it and a in a second or two.

"Five,"  it tells you the denomination.

Debbie Ramos with Lighthouse of Houston gave me the demonstration.

"In your experience are these in wide use?"

"We have a lot of interest, people coming in here asking for it, but then they find out the price and that's a deterrent because it's three hundred dollars."

All of this shows way people with limited or no vision are very interested in the federal court ruling that the U.S. Treasury must change our money so everyone can engage equally in commerce. In fact, Attorney Scott Lemond says the court said treasury should look into making technological devices to aid the blind more available.

"But in addition to that type of study the court said the treasury department needs to manufacture money differently. Money has to change."

Lemond says there is a reason cases like this don't generate a lot of popular support or indignation that such a civil right could go unaddressed for so many.

"Unlike other types of discrimination, if you're talking about race discrimination, or age discrimination or sex discrimination, you're usually taking about some kind of hatred or dislike. With disability discrimination that type of emotion doesn't exist."

Lemond says this case now is back at the trial court and will likely end up in the supreme court with a final resolution taking years. Meanwhile the blind and visually impaired must rely on trust in the market place.



First aired June 16, 2008.
Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...