Ever since there is paper currency in the US, visually impaired people have come up with solutions to recognize their money, I recently wrote about how Blind people recognize currency when I discussed collecting paper currency. This week there was some development on this issue which I would like to shed light on. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is starting a pilot program to distribute currency readers to blind and visually impaired people, and the distribution to all people will start next year.
Is this good or bad? Does this mean that we won’t have accessible currency?
First, let’s see who needs accessible currency. Opinions differ on this matter. There was an interesting piece in the Braille Monitor in February, 2007, according to which the lack of tactile currency marking is not a discrimination.
I have to agree, it is possible to recognize and keep track of paper currency. Since the article was published, with the advancement of mobile technologies it became much easier. However, there are reasons why tactile currency can be very useful.
We are using currency readers, for the lack of better. But primarily, not to recognize money, rather, to organize money. Once we recognize our currency, we have our system of keeping it separate, so the recognition takes place based on that system at the cash register. It is very time consuming to go through each bill with a currency recognizer, it is enough to do it when we get money back. And from my personal point of view, I’d rather believe that I got the right change back than stand there with a currency recognizer, or with an iPhone, holding up the line until I have proven that indeed, the person who gave me change did not lie. Because it may come across this way sometimes, even if the sole reason of going through my change is to make sure all notes make it into their designated area or are folded appropriately. Also, As I don’t want to be the blind guy holding up the line, you probably don’t want to be the person waiting in line. Or do you? And would you just say that poor guy needs a little more time than others? He is blind after all. Now I don’t want to be that blind guy either.
There is another consideration. Think about somebody who was able to see most of her life. Now, maybe after retirement age, she is slowly losing her vision. To an extent that she needs to change the way she does so many things in her life. Maybe she is still fighting it, it is a big change, an emotional trauma. Maybe she wants to hide it as long as possible. No, not because there is something to hide about being visually impaired, but because she needs more time to cope. Such a device would send a clear and loud message to the world that hey, look at this, I can’t see well enough. People can choose to disclose or not to disclose their disability. What was this word? Disability? Maybe this person is trying to come to terms with it, now she is classified as a person with a disability, whereas she wasn’t for the last 60-70 years. Don’t rub it into her face, let her accept it gradually.
Some people have no choice, but disclose their disability, because it is a visible one. For example, I walk with a white cane. I can’t do it in any other way. Yes, I’m not Fisher. It works in a TV show, but in real life it is much harder to hide. But I have no intentions to hide it either. Fisher did. What’s wrong with that? It is a personal preference.
When I decided to collect coins more seriously, I did make a choice that I will ask for help when I can’t recognize something. I have developed a system and it works for me. It is slower than for others who can see. But let that be my own, personal, behind the scenes problem. When it comes to recognizing my currency that I am required to pay taxes with, I don’t want to have disadvantages.
Now let’s see what the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is communicating with the announcement. After a District Court ruling in 2008 which required to provide meaningful access to currency, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing started a research on tactile currency while developing free mobile software to recognize paper currency. You can read the history of tactile US currency here. Since it cannot be expected that all visually impaired people have an IOS or Android device, the BEP is making currency recognition available to all by distributing stand-alone devices. This solution does not help people who are blind and hearing impaired, but they are able to use their mobile device together with a braille display.
This does not mean that the tactile currency program came to a halt. It means that it is yet another painful Federal process. According to Larry Felix the first tactile note will be the $10, approximately in 2020. Which means, maybe later, it also means that we don’t know when the rest will follow. It is still in the process, and the BEP is providing a solution in the meantime.
It is not the matter of releasing new currency overnight. Certain things need to be in place before that. First, it has to meet the increasing need of currency security. Second, a change in legislation needs to take place, as currently the one Dollar bill cannot be modified. It is also not the matter of copying what other countries are doing, because not all solutions have proven to be long lasting.
As the research is continuing, other solutions were offered for people with limited vision, when the new $100 bill was released in 2013 which allows better visual recognition.
I will discuss further development of currency recognition on this site, and will write about the recognition device when it becomes available.