Visually impaired get help from BEP through U.S. Currency Reader Program

Program’s currency reader, called iBill, is free to eligible applicants
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 02/25/17
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One of the downsides of the United States policy that all paper currency be of the same size is that it is much harder for the visually impaired to identify a note. There is hardly a chance that the United States will ever join the many countries that vary the size based on denomination, but the next generation of Federal Reserve note will have some help, as directed in May 2011 by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. 

Among them will be the continued use of large high-contrast numbers, and a raised distinguishing tactile device on each denomination except the $1 note, which, by law, cannot be changed.

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The observance of Low Vision Awareness Month in February led the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in partnership with the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to call attention to the U.S. Currency Reader Program that provides a currency reader, called iBill, for free to eligible applicants.

The iBill lets users identify a denomination in a choice of three modes: a clear natural voice, a pattern of tones, or for privacy, a pattern of vibrations. The vibration mode also assists people who are deaf and blind. It uses a single AAA battery.

The BEP says that more than 47,000 currency readers have been distributed to eligible U.S. citizens and legal residents. “We have received an extremely positive response from the visually impaired community about the currency readers’ functionality,” said BEP Director Len Olijar. “What better time than Low Vision Awareness Month to create additional awareness about the program and encourage others to apply for a currency reader.” 

To request a currency reader, individuals should complete the application located on BEP’s website or call 844-815-9388, toll free, to request that an application be mailed. 

BEP also offers two mobile device apps that scan a note and have the note’s value communicated back to the user. EyeNote 2.0 is an Apple iOS mobile application that can be downloaded free from the Apple App Store. The similar IDEAL Currency Identifier app for Android devices can be downloaded free from Google Play. There have been more than 30,000 EyeNote 2.0 downloads to date and the IDEAL® app hit 10,000 downloads the first week in February. 

Additional information on the program is here.

Why is the governement taking this step?

Michele Orzano wrote about the reasons in 2014:

“The distribution of the currency reader devices is in compliance a May 2011 decision by then Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to provide accessibility to U.S. paper currency for those who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. The accommodations authorized by Geithner 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. 

“On Sept. 2, 2014, the BEP will launch a four-month pilot program to distribute the devices at no cost to eligible individuals in a partnership with the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“The pilot program will allow the BEP to test its ordering and distribution processes and gauge demand for currency readers.

“On Jan. 2, 2015, the devices will be widely available to all U.S. citizens, or persons legally residing in the United States, who are blind or visually impaired.”

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