Future enhancements to help blind and visually impaired persons
identify Federal Reserve note denominations have been approved by U.S.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.
The enhancements to provide meaningful access to Federal Reserve
notes were recommended to Geithner in early 2011 by Bureau of
Engraving and Printing, Federal Reserve Board and U.S. Treasury officials.
Two of the three approved enhancements have to do with the design
of notes — raised tactile features and large, high-contrast numerals —
while the third is a coupon or voucher system that will enable blind
and visually impaired persons to purchase a hand-held currency reader.
The decision about which denomination will be the first to be
redesigned to include the enhancements has yet to be made, according
to BEP Director Larry R. Felix. Testing and development of specific
currency designs by denomination are now under way.
The use of a raised tactile feature would be something new for
U.S. paper money. No device of this style has ever been used on U.S.
paper currency, although tactile features are common on notes of other nations.
The tactile feature will be unique to each FRN denomination and
provide users with a means of identifying each denomination by way of
touch, according to the BEP.
To determine what enhancements could be added to Federal Reserve
notes, the BEP commissioned a comprehensive study in 2009 to analyze
options for blind and visually impaired persons to discern
denominations of U.S. paper money.
A variety of options were studied during extensive testing.
Existing world notes in addition to prototypes specially produced by
the BEP were used in the study.
The results of the BEP study showed the raised tactile feature,
used on some world notes, “was more effective than virtually every
other kind of accommodation tested, including different-sized notes.”
The study did indicate that raised tactile features do wear out
eventually, “so the effectiveness of the feature diminishes over time.”
Large, high-contrast numerals
One enhancement is already in use — large, high-contrast numerals,
which the BEP began adding to Series 1996 $50 FRNs to help improve
identification of notes for persons with impaired vision. That
technology has continued to be used on subsequent redesigns of other
denominations, including Series 2009 $100 FRNs, which have not yet
been released into circulation. Among denominations of current designs
in circulation, only the $1, $2 and $100 notes lack the large numeral
on the back.
The size, color, placement, background contrast and other aspects
of the larger numerals are all factors that will have to be considered
in any future redesign.
Currency readers would help blind and visually impaired persons
independently identify their cash without having to ask a stranger or
family member for assistance. The 1996 generation of notes features an
infrared machine-readable feature that can be read with a hand-held
currency reader. That feature was introduced beginning with the May
24, 2000, release of Series 1999 $5 and $10 notes, both of the 1996
style (having larger, offset portraits, though without the additional
colors and features of the current style).
In April 2011 a free mobile phone and tablet application developed
by the BEP to assist blind and visually impaired users to denominate
Federal Reserve notes was made available. The EyeNote application is
now available for Apple mobile devices for free through iTunes. It
uses image recognition technology to determine a note’s denomination
through the mobile device’s camera and announces the denomination audibly.
Earlier in 2011 a private company developed an application that
audibly identifies all FRN denominations. The LookTel Money
Reader can be purchased for $1.99 at Apple’s App Store for the
iPhone and iPod. Developers expect to make the application available
to Android and other platforms in the future. The LookTel Money Reader
application also uses the camera in the phone to identify
denominations and does not require an Internet connection.
The accommodations authorized by Geithner will meet the
requirement of a court decision in a lawsuit filed in 2002.
In May 2008 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision in 2006 that the
Treasury failed to design, produce and issue paper money that is
readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals.
The decisions involved a lawsuit filed in 2002 by the American
Council for the Blind and two people with visual impairments, Patrick
Sheehan and Otis Stephens.
The lawsuit alleged that the physical design of the FRNs violates
Section 504 of the federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act.
Redesigned $100 FRN
The redesigned Series 2009 $100 FRN is not bound by the court
order, although the next generation of the $100 note will fall under
the court order.
Treasury officials said that the order did not apply to the
redesign of the $100 FRNs that was in progress because the BEP was
significantly far along with the design of the note before the court
issued its order.
The Series 2009 $100 FRN was scheduled for release in February
2011 but in October 2010 Federal Reserve Board officials announced the
planned release date would be delayed because of production problems.
The issuance of the redesigned $100 FRNs was delayed because of a
problem with sporadic creasing of the paper during the printing of the
new notes. BEP and Fed officials have not revealed what caused the
periodic creasing. Fed officials now say collectors might not see new
colorized notes until the end of 2011 at the earliest.
For every accommodation or redesign decision the BEP makes,
businesses involved in manufacturing vending machines, retail cash
registers, public transport fare tills, gaming machines, commercial
banks, ATMs and other money-related devices must respond to the
resulting change. ■