Free Bill Readers Offered to People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

How Do You Identify Your Money?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a blind person is how do you identify your money? Since US paper currency is printed with the same color ink and each denomination has the same shape and texture it is very difficult to determine differences. This challenge reduces the level of financial independence for those with vision loss. It also creates opportunities to be taken advantage of by dishonest people.

Multiple Ways to Identify Money

It can be hard for me to answer that question about identifying my money because there are multiple ways to do it. As a result, I have strayed away from using paper money and depend more on debit and credit cards but others might feel differently. For a long time now people who are blind and/or visually impaired have had to find a variety of ways to identify their paper printed money. Some have depended on trustworthy sighted people to help determine their one dollar bills from their fives, tens or twenties. After getting assistance from a sighted person, the bills can be folded in different ways to tactually determine the differences.

putting money in wallet with multiple slots

Others have used accessible wallets with multiple slots to place each denomination in. or they might use a device such as a hand-held bill reader for identification. Yet, more recently others have used accessible apps on their iPhone or smartphone to scan and read their cash.

using money reader app to identify $20 bill

Free Bill Readers for the Blind

But just last month the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that they would be providing free bill readers to those with vision loss. This is great news because it will allow the visually impaired to be more financially independent and have equal access to their paper money. This news comes at the end of a long battle by advocates such as the American Council of the Blind.

The BEP will process requests in two phases:

Two Phases to Receive the Bill Reader

The first phase will be a pilot starting on September 2, 2014 in collaboration with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). All library patrons can pre-order their readers. This will allow BEAP to test its ordering and distribution processes and better gauge demand.

The second phase will be a national rollout. Any US citizen who is blind or visually impaired will be able to order a bill reader beginning January 2, 2015. Individuals who are not NLS patrons must submit an application, signed by a competent authority who can certify visual impairment.

Talking About Money

I think the ability to get free bill readers from the BEP is wonderful news. It will provide more financial freedom and equal access to printed money. But what do you think? Do you have a method to identify your dollar bills? Do you use paper money since losing your vision? Are you familiar with the bill reader? Share your thoughts and comments below.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on the SightSeeing Blog at the Center for the Visually Impaired in August, 2014. Permission to use photos were also granted by CVI.