By Guest Blogger Rosie Rios, Treasurer of the United States
Federal Reserve notes, better known in commerce as U.S. currency, paper money or bills, are the same size and weight regardless of denomination. Because there is no tactile difference between a $5 and $20 bill, for example, individuals who are blind or visually impaired may experience difficulties denominating Federal Reserve notes.
The Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is working to change that and is taking a number of steps to provide meaningful access to U.S. currency for people who are blind or visually impaired. Changes to U.S. currency are planned, but the process for redesigning Federal Reserve notes is complex and time intensive, and notes with new features are not expected to be in circulation before 2020. To offer more immediate remedies, the BEP has turned to a number of technological solutions.
In January 2015, the BEP launched its U.S. Currency Reader Program nationwide. The program is providing a free currency reader device to all U.S. citizens or legal residents who are blind or visually impaired. The currency reader is a small, compact, hand-held device – about the size of a credit card and about one-half inch thick. It runs on one AAA battery, which is included. To use the currency reader, one simply inserts a U.S. bill into the reader and presses a button. The device quickly identifies the note’s denomination in one of three ways: a clear natural voice, a pattern of tones or a pattern of vibrations for privacy. The vibration mode assists people who are deaf and blind. The currency reader identifies all U.S. currency in circulation, including $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations.