Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Show Me the Money: Making Currency Accessible to People Who Are Blind

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Show Me the Money: Making Currency Accessible to People Who Are Blind

Article excerpt

On a recent business trip, I ducked into the hotel gift shop in between meetings to grab some energy food. Approaching the counter, I put down my purchase, handed the clerk what I thought was a twenty-dollar bill and said, "Here's twenty dollars." When the teller at my bank had handed me the bill shortly before I left for the airport, he had assured me it was a $20 bill, and I had folded it accordingly and placed it in my billfold in the compartment set aside for that denomination of bills. Therefore, I was surprised when the clerk said, "No, that's a $5. Here's your change." I protested that I had given her twenty dollars, but she said I had not. I explained that I had been told at the bank that it was $20, but she didn't care. Who was right? Since my purchase cost only $1.50, I cared how this question was answered. In this particular case, it happened that a colleague who could see was behind me in line and witnessed the transaction. She spoke up and said, "I saw her hand you a twenty-dollar bill, Ma'am." At that point, the clerk opened the drawer of the cash register, took out some additional bills, and slapped them on the counter in front of me. I picked up the bills, took my purchase, and left the store.

Though such incidents are not common, they do occur more often for people who are blind than many might like to admit. The incident described

above was the most recent, but not the first, for this writer. It is always difficult to know how to handle these situations. In the U.S., coins of different denominations can be readily distinguished by people who are blind and visually impaired because the look and feel of each denomination is different. First of all, they vary in size and have different images. While pennies and dimes are close in size, pennies have smooth edges and dimes have milled, or ridged edges. On the other hand, banknotes are all the same size and texture, regardless of their denomination. While it is true that the images and numerals vary from one denomination to another, much of this information is indistinguishable by people who have limited vision, and cannot be identified at all by people who are blind. Therefore, for people who can't see their money, there is no way to verify the denomination of the bills, and in case of a dispute it may be difficult to determine who is right. People who are blind adopt various precautions to deal with this problem. For instance, it is common practice among people who are blind to separate their bills in some fashion, so they can identify them, either by where they are kept, or how they are folded. For example, one might keep one denomination of notes, such as $1 bills unfolded, then fold $5 bills in half, fold tens in fourths and fold $20 bills in half lengthwise. Anything larger might be folded into a triangle. Some blind people find it more useful to separate bills by placing them in different compartments within a billfold. When giving money to another person, such as a store cashier, it is common practice for people who are blind to state the denomination of the bill as they hand it to the other person, as was illustrated in the incident described at the beginning of this article. Others recommend avoiding the use of large bills altogether, so that only $1 bills and coins that are readily identified are received as returned change. In either case, one who cannot identify bills by sight has no means of verifying the denomination of bills as they change hands and one must exercise great care to prevent bills of different denominations from becoming mixed up. Further, if a bill is dropped, it can easily become unfolded, and one has no way to determine its previous location, so as to replace it in the proper compartment, or refold it in the appropriate manner.

Some people also use note identifiers. These are fairly small electronic devices which allow one to insert a bill into a slot and run it over a scanner. The unit then scans the bill and reads its denomination out loud through an earphone worn by the user. …

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