I have owned a bill-reading machine (the Note Teller) for more than four years. While I have found using the Note Teller to be a good way to keep track of most of my paper currency, I know I am lucky. Currently, the new Note Teller 2 retails for $270—a price that may be beyond the means of many blind Americans. In fact, if I had not been given my Note Teller as a gift, I do not believe I would own it either.
During the time I have owned my Note Teller, I have had many conversations with blind friends who cannot understand why I rely so heavily on my Note Teller. Until recently, I used to answer those challenges by acknowledging that relying on the Note Teller, like every other system that blind people have to rely on, is not a perfect way of identifying money, because it cannot identify the newly redesigned bills without software upgrades and (like a vending machine) it can only read bills that are entered in the proper orientation or which are not wrinkled. However, I took pride in the fact that I wasn’t dependent on sighted people to identify most of my currency. Also, I wasn’t forced to strictly adhere to a folding system. As long as I kept my currency reasonably wrinkle-free and avoided the newer bills, I could rely on my Note Teller to distinguish the bills for me.
But three weeks ago, I discovered the biggest problem with relying on a machine as my primary source of currency identification: suddenly my Note Teller stopped working. I have tried everything from changing the battery to cleaning out the machine, and so far, I have not been able to get it working. So, I have gone back to using my own folding system and relying on sighted people for the original identification. Of course, I could send my Note Teller to the manufacturer to have the software upgraded for $85, but if that doesn’t work I will have to decide if I can really afford to $270 dollars for a new Note Teller.
Over the last few weeks, I have not missed fighting with my Note Teller—trying to get it to identify bills, not knowing if the problem is the bill being too wrinkled or too new. While I appreciate not having to put stacks of paper money under heavy objects in an attempt to flatten out the wrinkles, I still miss my Note Teller. There was something nice about being able to verify the information that a sighted person had given me or being able to identify money that I had dropped.
Until America has paper currency that is more user friendly, I will have to get used to using some combination of these less-than-perfect systems of bill identification. While I am confident that I will be able to use money to purchase what I need, I am frustrated by the fact that I am being asked to spend hundreds of dollars or to rely on the kindness of strangers just to do something as fundamental as knowing how much change I am receiving.