Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

Efforts Made to Make Money Accessible to the Blind

Anisio using iPhone money readerLast August I wrote a blog post for SighteSeeing on the availability of free bill readers from the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Effective this month, BEP has begun their national rollout. Any US citizen who is blind or visually impaired can order a bill reader. But in order to do so, they must submit an application signed by a competent authority who can certify visual impairment. The bill readers are palm size and can easily fit in a pocket or purse. They can give a verbal, vibration or tone indication of the denomination of the paper bill once inserted on the side of the device. A demonstration of the bill reader along with other methods of identifying money can be viewed on this CVI YouTube video.

If you are reading this post you might be asking, “why do you need a bill reader to identify paper currency in the first place?” Well, currently US paper money is not accessible to the blind and visually impaired. US paper currency is printed with the same color ink and each denomination has the same shape, size, dimensions, and texture making it virtually impossible to determine differences if you can’t see it. For years the blind and visually impaired community has had to depend on sighted individuals to assist them with identifying paper money. This does not allow full independence or financial freedom. So, in 2002, the American Council for the Blind and 2 blind individuals filed a formal complaint about the lack of accessible paper money. This complaint helped to launch the BEP’s Meaningful Access Currency Program. Below is a brief summary of the historical timeline of the progress. But for more in depth details go to the BEP website.

Folding a billMay 2002--The American Council of the Blind (ACB) and two visually impaired individuals filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the currency of the United States violates the rights of blind and visually impaired persons because they cannot determine denominations of United States paper currency. ACB stated that the Treasury Department and [then] Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was enacted to ensure that people with disabilities can live independently and fully participate in society.

October 2008--The District Court ruled that the Department of the Treasury must provide meaningful access to U.S. currency for blind and other visually impaired persons in the next currency redesign.

May 20, 2010--The Department of the Treasury and BEP issued a notice in the Federal Register to inform the public of the features BEP will propose to the Secretary of the Treasury and to solicit public comment on the proposed accommodations. The public comment period closed on August 18, 2010.

May 31, 2011--Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner approved the methods that the Department of the Treasury will use to provide blind and visually impaired individuals with meaningful access to U.S. currency. The Secretary approved the following accommodations which are based on feedback from the study and feedback from the public:

  • A Raised Tactile Feature: Adding a raised tactile feature to U.S. currency unique to each Federal Reserve note that it may lawfully change1, which will provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch. 1 Currently, U.S. law prohibits any changes to the $1 Federal Reserve note.
  • High Contrast Numerals: Continuing the program of adding large high contrast numerals and different colors to each denomination that it is permitted by law to alter.
  • A Currency Reader Program: Implementing a supplemental currency reader distribution program for blind and visually impaired U.S. citizens and those legally residing in the U.S.

July 2013--Although the legislation accompanying Senate Report 112-177 was not enacted, given the high level of interest, and to enhance communication and openness, BEP submitted a white paper to the Treasury OIG and the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The white paper explains BEP’s progress and path forward in detail.

July 2014--The BEP outlined its plans to launch the currency reader program at three conferences this summer: the National Federation for the Blind Annual Conference in Orlando, FL, the American Council for the Blind Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV, and the Blinded Veterans Association Annual Conference in Reno, NV.

September 2, 2014--In partnership with the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) NLS patrons became eligible to pre-order a currency reader.

money in walletAdditionally, BEP says they will continue to research a raised tactile feature for use on the next redesigned Federal Reserve note and will continue to add large, high-contrast numerals and different colors to each redesigned note denomination that it is permitted by law to alter. The process for redesigning Federal Reserve notes is complex and time intensive. Notes with any new features are not expected to be in circulation before 2020.

For more information on the bill reader or the Meaningful Access Currency Program you can call 844-815-9388 or email meaningful.access@bep.gov.

Let’s talk about money! So, do you have a bill reader? If so, has it helped you have more financial independence? Do you use other methods to identify your paper money? Are you content with the progress the US government has made so far? If not, what more do you think could be done? Share your comments and thoughts below.

Post a comment

Post a comment

RequiredPrivacy Statement