Currency Access for All


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

back of the five dollar bill showing the large high contrast number 5 in the corner of the billLast week, while in Washington, D.C. for a meeting of state assistive technology programs, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) about their efforts to make currency (paper notes) accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.  You may have already noticed that the BEP has made steps, like using large high contrast numbers on the $5 bill.  Ultimately, the BEP has authorization from the Department of Treasury to “add a raised tactile feature to U.S. currency unique to each Federal Reserve note that it may lawfully change, which will provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch” (currently, U.S. law prohibits any changes to the $1 bill.).  Yet, I learned that making changes to currency is a long and complex process, due to strict anti-counterfeit measures that must be taken.  While the BEP works through this process they are offering free talking currency readers, called the iBill, to people that meet the eligibility requirements, which they define as:

  • Visual acuity, as determined by competent authority, is 20/200 or less in the better eye with correcting lenses, or their widest diameter of visual field subtends angular distance not greater than 20 degrees; or
  • Visual disability, with correction and regardless of optical measurement, is certified by competent authority as preventing the reading of regular printed material.

The application provides more information about documentation needed and who qualifies as a “competent authority”.

the iBill with a 20 dollar bill insertedThe iBill is simple to use – you simply insert the corner of a bill in the slot on the top of the device and push a button.  Operating instructions are available in a variety of formats.

If you’d like to try the iBill or a similar device before applying, they will be available in our blind/low vision kits for device demonstration.

While we’re on the subject of access,  did you know that the National Library Service administers a free library program of braille and audio materials?  This service is  available to U.S. residents and citizens living abroad whose low vision, blindness, physical disability or other print disability makes it difficult to read a standard printed page.

Why not check out both of these free programs today?


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