In the latest edition of “Access World” the American Foundation for the Blind reviewed the Note Teller 2 money identifier. According to the review the machine was only able to correctly identify bills 80% of the time.
In 2006, the members of the Blinded Veterans Association voted to support adding a tactile feature to United States paper currency.
WHEREAS, currency is used by virtually everyone in everyday life including blind and visually-impaired persons, AND
WHEREAS, the currency of the United States is, at the present time, impossible to identify without vision or electric device, AND
WHEREAS, most blind and visually impaired persons are therefore required to rely upon others to determine denominations of such currency, AND
WHEREAS, this constitutes a serious impediment to independence in everyday living, AND
WHEREAS, electronic means of bill identification will always have more potential for fallibility than purely tactile means, AND
WHEREAS, readily identifiable currency is consistent with the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, AND
WHEREAS, a suitable method of visual identification has been introduced for visually-impaired persons, AND
WHEREAS, no tactile means of identifying currency has yet been developed or introduced; THEREFORE BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Blinded Veterans Association, in convention assembled in Buffalo, NY on this 19th day of August, 2006, strongly supports efforts to make
currency of the United States tactually identifiable within a reasonable period of time.
It has been suggested that blind people don’t need a change to paper currency; instead, the argument goes, they can just use credit cards to make all of their purchases. Those who embrace this line of reasoning fail to realize that many credit card machines require entering information through flat touch screens—which are inaccessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Since the keys on a flat touch screen are not distinguishable by touch, blind and visually impaired people have many of the same accessibility problems with these machines that they have with our currency. Also, many stores do not even accept credit cards, and many of those that do require a minimum purchase for the “privilege” of using a credit card. Not to mention the number of local service providers (taxicab drivers, babysitters, landscapers, and more) who cannot accept credit cards. Of course, all of those arguments pale in comparison to the argument, “Why should blind and visually impaired people have to pay interest on their purchases simply because of their lack of eyesight?” Do those who promote the credit card solution to the currency identification challenges faced by blind and visually impaired Americans really believe that’s a fair result?
Some may respond that blind and visually impaired Americans don’t need to pay interest if they use a debit card instead of a conventional credit card. The problem with that argument is that in order to use a debit card, unlike a credit card, you must enter your personal identification number. This forces blind and visually impaired Americans, at stores with flat touch screen credit card machines, to tell their PIN number to a total stranger. Surely, no one thinks that is a good idea.
Even if blind or visually impaired people are willing to use conventional credit cards or if their debit cards can be used like credit cards, they must still sign for most purchases. For a myriad of reasons, many blind people would have difficulty signing their names. Whether it is because they need assistance finding where to sign on the inaccessible touch screen, or whether it is because they have not yet learned how to sign their names in print (either manually or using a personal hand stamp), these blind people are effectively precluded from using credit cards to make purchases.
It is true that credit cards can sometimes be more convenient than cash, but it is equally true that there are many instances where using a credit card is either not an option or far less convenient than using cash. We would never tolerate a system that required all people to charge every one of their purchases, so why is it acceptable to expect blind people to do so? If we did decide that all people needed to use credit cards, society would have to change in many ways to make their use easier. For one thing, there would be no more minimum purchase requirements for the use of credit cards. Additionally, every business and service provider would be required to accept credit cards. Even if all of those fundamental changes could be made—a proposition that is very unlikely—almost every American would oppose it, because there is no getting around the fact that for many reasons cash is simply easier to use.
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.
From a CBS News article dated December 12, 2006:
“Tara Cortes, president of Lighthouse International, an advocacy group for the blind, said the government’s decision to fight making changes in the currency was ‘misguided and harmful to millions.’
“She said there are 1.3 million people in the United States who are legally blind and there will be millions more in coming years as the baby boom generation ages and more people fall victim to macular degeneration and other diseases that can affect vision such as diabetes.”
On November 29, 2006, the American Foundation for the Blind applauded the accessible currency lawsuit, saying:
“Yesterday a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Treasury Department is violating the law by not designing and issuing paper money that is accessible to people with vision loss. Though this is just the first step in what is expected to be a long legal battle, it is an important ruling for the 10 million blind and visually impaired people living in the United States.
“We applaud the American Council of the Blind for championing this issue to ensure that all people can easily identify and use money without assistance.”
The American Foundation for the Blind is currently sponsoring a web survey about currency use by visually impaired people.
Here’s something that happened to me a few years ago:
One night, I came home from work late and I decided to order a pizza. After a long day at the office I did not feel like cooking. After placing my order, I took out a $20 bill and sat down to watch television while I waited for the pizza. Thirty minutes later, my pizza arrived. I went to the door and handed the delivery man my $20 and asked him for $5 change. He handed me a bill and told me it was a $5.
Over an hour later, as I was watching a basketball game, I heard another knock on my door. I was surprised to hear someone knocking because it was almost 10 p.m., so when I got to the door I asked who it was. I was shocked when the voice on the other side replied that he was the pizza delivery man. As I was opening the door I began to wonder, “Did I not pay him enough? Was my $20 bill really a $5?”
My feelings of embarrassment quickly turned to shock as the man explained to me that I had accidentally given him a $100 bill instead of a $20. He said he did not immediately notice that it was a $100 because the light outside my door was burned out. I could not believe that he had returned the money to me. I let him keep fifty dollars as a tip because, the way I looked at it, I was still ahead thirty dollars and I wanted to reward his honesty.
As I went to sleep that night, I could not stop thinking about how I had almost lost all that money because of the inaccessible currency used here in America. I was also struck by the fact that the sighted delivery man could not tell the money apart either, because of the darkness outside. I knew that there had to be a better way, a design for American paper money that would protect both the delivery man and me from going through that kind of situation again.
Jonathan Simeone is an attorney who happens to be blind. He currently works for the American Bar Association.
Judge James Robertson’s opinion in the tactile currency case states: “The government offers no reason to think that the addition of a tactile feature would render U.S. currency more vulnerable to counterfeiting, and indeed the use of foil and raised print on the euro is considered a security feature, as is the micro perforated number on a Swiss banknote.”
On December 23, 2006, the Berks County (Pennsylvania) Reading Eagle published an editorial in support of this decision, saying that tactile features could only help us fight the battle against counterfeiting:
“The government’s main argument seemed to be one of security. These changes would make U.S. currency easier to counterfeit, government attorneys argued. That seems ridiculous on its face, and Robertson dismissed that during the hearing as utterly unpersuasive. Indeed common sense indicates that changing size or adding special features in fact could make U.S. currency harder to copy.”
On February 27, 2007, NPR presented an interview with a counterfeiting prevention expert who believes that textural and other cues musst be added to our paper currency to prevent counterfeiting in the coming years:
“[Robert] Schafrik, who led this year’s National Research Council study on currency, said that counterfeiting is likely to explode if the U.S. doesn’t make some radical changes to our paper bills.
“Within five to 10 years, he says, ‘the software will be so easy to use that anyone will be able to use it, even the casual counterfeiter.’
“Forget global crime syndicates or foreign pariah states. In a few years, with even the cheapest printer, you’ll be able to counterfeit money. The pizza delivery comes, you’re short $10. No problem. Scan the $10 bill you do have into a computer, hit print, and you’ve got a perfect fidelity bill. In short, the United States will not be able to stop counterfeiting by making paper currency more and more intricate. Printers will reproduce any image.
“‘The future is not going to be in more color, or more finely printed images,’ says Alan Goldstein, a molecular engineering professor at Alfred University. ‘The future is going to be in the materials from which the bill, itself, is made.'”
Even if the government decided simply to vary the size of the different denominations (with lowest-value bills being smallest, of course), this would at least prevent criminals from bleaching the ink off low-value bills and using them to counterfeit higher-value bills (this scam is one of the reasons why the Bureau of Egraving and Printing is redesigning the $5 right now).
Although most media are portraying the accessible currency lawsuit merely as a “blind” issue, in fact accessible paper money would benefit everyone by making our currency more secure–and that’s an important part of our economic and national security.
This USA Today editorial in favor of accessible paper currency was published on December 14, 2006:
“Compared with the $420 million the Bureau of Engraving and Printing spends each year, changing the currency amounts to small change, and the cost isn’t a good enough reason to thwart action that could assist 1.3 million blind Americans.
“Similar cost objections were once raised to other accommodations to assist the disabled, such as handicapped parking spots and bathrooms, curb cuts and ramps. Those are now required by law in public places, widely accepted, and beneficial to those in wheelchairs and people with baby strollers alike.”
…and let’s not forget about Closed Captioning of TV programs, which was originally considered an expensive “burden” placed on the hearing community solely for the benefit of Deaf and hearing-impaired people: now hearing people are using Closed Captioning everywhere, from health clubs to airports to sports bars! “Disability” accommodations have a funny way of benefiting non-disabled people more than they ever anticipate…
Some people mistakenly believe that adding tactile features to United States paper currency would only benefit blind people. While it is true that tactile features would make U.S. banknotes more accessible to blind people, and this issue has recently been brought to the public’s attention because of a lawsuit filed by the American Council of the Blind, we must remember that this change would actually benefit everyone, including sighted people.
As other countries like Switzerland and Canada have demonstrated, tactile features make paper currency more difficult to counterfeit and therefore more secure for everyone. At this time in our history—when terrorists are looking to exploit America’s vulnerabilities—many sighted people support adding tactile features to our paper money simply because it is a commonsense measure that would help protect our currency from fraud.
People in nearly every other country on earth have also shown us that tactile features make paper currency easier for everyone to use, whether blind or sighted. Imagine a world where you could reach casually into your wallet and pick out the bills you need simply by touch? Or imagine being able to count your money in the dark–wouldn’t it be easier if you could identify the bills without actually having to look at them? Even when people ARE looking at their money, tactile features would serve as extra reinforcing cues to help everyone handle cash more quickly and easily. For example, Wikipedia notes that if higher-denomination bills were larger than lower-denominations, this would “nearly eliminate the risk that, for example, someone might fail to notice a high-value note among low-value ones, a common problem in the United States.”
Some sighted supporters of tactile currency are motivated less by their own self-interest than by their belief in the American ideal of equality. Even if accessible paper currency WERE only a “blind” issue, wouldn’t it still be important? In a society like ours, shouldn’t all Americans—regardless of visual acuity—have complete access to something as fundamental as our currency? Why should visually impaired people be prevented from contriubuting as much as possible to our nation’s economy?
Sighted people are working along with blind people in OurMoneyToo and other groups because they realize that paper currency with tactile features is harder to counterfeit and easier to use for EVERYONE, whether blind or sighted.