The purchase of handheld electronic currency readers by the Bureau
of Engraving and Printing to be given free to eligible blind and
visually impaired individuals was approved June 7 by the Government
In January 2013, the BEP requested an opinion from the GAO as to
whether the BEP could give, rather than loan as government property, a
currency reader to eligible blind and visually impaired individuals as
part of its meaningful access program.
The GAO is an independent agency that advises and monitors federal
government activities. Among its duties is to rule on agency rules.
The GAO decision stated that the BEP “may use appropriated funds
to purchase and give currency readers to blind and visually impaired
individuals as part of its compliance with the federal district court
order to provide such individuals with meaningful access to U.S. currency.”
The BEP already had the authority to operate a program to loan out
readers, but under a loaner program, BEP would need to conduct
periodic checks on the condition of the government-owned readers.
Conducting the checks would have been costly, time-intensive, and
burdensome to the visually impaired community, according to Treasury officials.
The currency reader is one of three enhancements approved in
September 2011 by then U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to
help blind and visually impaired persons identify Federal Reserve note denominations.
The enhancements are part of the BEP’s program to offer the blind
and visually impaired “meaningful access” to FRNs in compliance with a
2008 United States Court of Appeals decision. The 2008 decision upheld
a lower court ruling that the Treasury failed to design, produce and
issue paper money that is readily distinguishable to blind and
visually impaired individuals. The decision resolved a lawsuit filed
The other two approved enhancements have to do with the design of
notes — raised tactile features and large, high-contrast numerals.
The use of a raised tactile feature would be something new for
U.S. paper money. Tactile features are common on notes of other
nations. As planned, the tactile feature will be unique to each FRN
denomination, to provide users with a means to identify each
denomination by way of touch, according to the BEP.
The size, color, placement, background contrast and other aspects
of the larger numerals are all factors to be considered in any future redesign.
Redesigned Series 1999 $5 and $10 notes, which were released
starting May 24, 2000, feature an infrared machine-readable feature
that can be read with a handheld currency reader. ■