Back in 2009 I wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune about how difficult it can be for people who are blind to keep track of U.S. currency. From the article:
180 countries use printed paper money, and the United States is the only one that prints bills all the same size and color, no matter how much each bill is worth.
A federal appeals court had ruled in 2008 that the U.S. currency system discriminates against blind people, but Henry M. Paulson, Jr., (the Treasury Secretary back then) had testified against the ruling. He said that people who are blind can function fine using credit cards or electronic scanners to identify different bills, and if that didn’t work they could rely on help from others.
Treasury Secretary Paulson did have a point. I’ve been blind for 25 years now, and in all that time I have never been shortchanged by a cashier. Even Chicago cab drivers — who have an undeserved reputation for being rude — have been honest with me, correcting me when I’ve made mistakes and tried to pay them too much. Still, I feel pretty stupid sometimes when a bill unfolds itself — or gets mangled up in my wallet — and I have to ask what money I’m carrying. So I was happy to find out this week that the U. S. Bureau of Engraving has developed a free app that people like me can use to increase accessibility to U.S. paper money. I was even happier still when Mike offered to download the EyeNote app onto my iPhone for me — I’m still crawling up the learning curve on using that thing!
I’m gaining ground, though — after a bit of a hitch at the start, Mike and I were able to get the EyeNote app working pretty quickly. The app is available as a free download at the Apple App Store. It runs without any special filters or background material, and you don’t have to have a data connection for the app to work. I double tapped on the EyeNote app, My iPhone read the directions out loud to me, I pulled a bill out of my wallet, pointed the iPhone camera lens at it, listened for the shutter to sound, waited a few seconds and…voila! A woman who sounds like she’s from Ireland called out the denomination! EyeNote was designed to work when the banknote is held in one hand and the mobile device is in the other hand — real life conditions. We played around with it, and it didn’t matter if I pointed the lens to the front or the back of the bill — I could even point it at an angle and that Irish woman inside the phone got it right. And if there comes a time I don’t want to hear her sweet little voice, I can go to “privacy mode.” Specially keyed vibrations/tones will identify the denomination for me. The U.S. government’s Money Factory site claims the EyePhone app is not in lieu-of any other accommodation they are considering, but in addition to other ideas.
It simply provides another option for the public which would preclude a user from having to carry a separate reader if they also own a compatible mobile device.
Recent studies say that over 100,000 people who are blind or visually impaired own Apple iPhones. The EyeNote app is one of a variety of measures the government is working on to help us keep track of our cash. A recent Federal Register notice says other measures include
- implementing a Currency Reader Program whereby a United States resident, who is blind or visually impaired, may obtain a coupon that can be applied toward the purchase of a device to denominate United States currency,
- continuing to add large high contrast numerals and different background colors to redesigned currency, and
- raised tactile features may be added to redesigned currency, which would provide users with a means of identifying each denomination via touch.
EyeNote will not be able to tell me if a bill is counterfeit, but the app will be updated to recognize when the design of U.S. paper money changes from time to time. The Bureau of Engraving says my EyeNote will work with the new $100 banknote after its introduction into circulation, so if any of you want to send one of those my way, let me know and I’ll give you my mailing address. I’d be happy to check that out.