A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet people from the US Bureau of Engraving, which designs and produces paper money, amongst other things, for the United States government. I was surprised to learn about the world of free resources for identifying US currency, and today's post is all about the money, money, money. Here is how people with vision impairments identify money using assistive technology and other methods.
Bill folding method
Teachers of the visually impaired frequently teach their students how to identify bills by folding them in different ways. I actually found an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to bill folding for the blind and visually impaired, which recommended the following method for bill folding:
- Leave $1 bills unfolded.
- Fold $5 bills lengthwise.
- Fold $10 bills by width.
- Fold $20 bills lengthwise and then by width, and/or put them in a separate compartment
I didn't have access to all of these bills while putting together this post, so here is a picture credited to the US State Department on how this bill folding method works. Read more about government resources for assistive technology here.
Got Braille? The Click Pocket allows users to indent Braille on money by putting the edge of the bill into the small Brailler. This does not damage the bills, and can be used in addition to the folding method. I got my Click Pocket for free at a conference, but they can be purchased on MaxiAids for $6- product link here.
iBill currency reader
The iBill currency reader is a small device that identifies US currency either by announcing the value of the bill or through vibration feedback. It took a couple of tries for me to get it to work at first, but after ten minutes the device was working great and identifying all of the money in my wallet. It runs on a triple A (AAA) battery and fits easily in a purse or pocket. I would recommend this device for people who do not have smartphones or that don't like high-tech assistive technology. Read more about mid-tech devices like this one in my post on assistive technology myths here.
Get the iBill for free
While you can buy the iBill currency reader on Amazon for about $130, you can also get one for free through the US Bureau of Engraving. This is the exact same device that is sold on Amazon, and all that people have to do is fill out a form and mail it in. The form does require certification from another authority that the person is visually impaired, but that is easy to get. Some examples of authority include doctors, case managers, rehabilitation teachers, counselors, and similar. Additional information and links to the form can be accessed on the US Bureau of Engraving website here.
The EyeNote app for iOS allows users with blindness and low vision to identify money using their device camera, and also indicates whether it is the front or back side of the bill. It also continuously scans, meaning that users don't have to do anything with the app other than open it. This app was developed by the US Bureau of Engraving and can be downloaded on the App Store here.
IDEAL Currency Identifier
The IDEAL Currency Identifier app for Android also allows users with blindness and low vision to identify money, though has less features than EyeNote. I found that this app works less well for bills that are very wrinkled or in poor lighting, but I was still able to get results fairly quickly. I like that it is very easy to use, especially for students just learning how to identify money. Download IDEAL on the Google Play store here.
Users with Android phones that have Google Assistant also have Google Camera, which is accessed by tapping the camera icon in the bottom right corner of the Google Assistant screen. From there, users can hold up bills and coins from a variety of countries, and the Google Assistant will identify them, no matter how wrinkled they are. I like how easy this is to access on my Google Pixel 2, though I'm not sure how many other phones support this. This app is pre-installed on compatible phones
Microsoft's Seeing AI app supports the ability to identify bills from the US, as well as including support for Canadian dollars, British pounds, and Euros as of publishing time. I like that I don't have to switch to another app if I am using Seeing AI already for something else, and that it also works for currency from countries other than the US- I look forward to using it when I travel to Canada in August. Read more about the Seeing AI App here.
Fun fact- the US Bureau of Engraving does not design or produce coins, that is done by the United States Mint. For identifying coins, people with vision impairments often distinguish coins based on size and texture of the outer ridge- pennies are smooth, while dimes have ridges. I also identify them by the sound they make when they fall out of my hand, which happens more often than I care to admit. Learn more about identifying coins in this post from Perkins Paths to Technology blog here.
In the future- tactile bill
While many countries already have tactile currency, the United States will roll out bills with tactile features starting in 2020, allowing people to be able to distinguish bills by feeling them. While not many details have been released on what these tactile features will look like, it certainly is exciting that these bills will be easier to identify for the visually impaired. Read more about tactile bills in this post from PMG Notes here.
I hope this post has taught you something new about how people with vision impairments identify money!
Author's note- I am changing the name of my post series "How Do People With Low Vision" to "How Do People With Vision Impairments" to better reflect my audience and the resources I share. In the meantime, some graphics may not display the correct title of posts when clicked, though the URLs will not change. Thanks for your patience!