Money, money, money, money

Blind JusticeBack 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.

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19 Responses to “Money, money, money, money”


  1. 1 Jenny May 23, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Irish women know how to count their money!
    I really should get an i phone, but the list of things I need to buy first is very very long!
    That sounds like an amazing ap though.

    • 2 bethfinke May 24, 2011 at 7:31 am

      Yeah, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t need this app in Ireland, right? Is your paper money all different sizes?

  2. 3 Bob May 23, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I wonder why the government decided to use Apple devices first and not some other device?

    • 4 bethfinke May 24, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Quoting from the FAQ page on Money Factory: “Apple has developed a complete ecosystem around developing mobile applications and making those applications easily downloadable onto a user device. Apple’s system is very mature in the industry, which is why we started here.” The FAQ page said there are “tentative thoughts” to make EyeNote available on other phones from other vendors once this first effort with iPhones is evaluated. Stay tuned!

  3. 5 Maria May 23, 2011 at 9:43 am

    First, my congratulations on having and using an IPhone. I am always at least a decade behind with technology. I haven’t even made it up to Blackberry yet! All the family members in the house are constantly on their I Phones or I Pads. So the point is….to use the phone and new app for the currency recognition is so cool on two levels…the fact that it’s available and the fact that you know how to utilize it. Good for you! Another useful app….there are many….from what I hear. Never witnessed them myself. :)

  4. 6 The Empty Pen May 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Gee Beth, so kind of you to volunteer to test the hundred out for us.

    • 7 bethfinke May 26, 2011 at 8:22 am

      Yeah, well, what can I say? I’m just that sort of kind person, I guess. You know, I’m a giver…!

  5. 8 Benita May 25, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Please mail back the seven hundred dollar bills I sent you immediately.

  6. 9 Bethie May 25, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Hmm. My EyeNote identified those as singles….

  7. 10 Kate May 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Ha! Yes, $100 bills arriving in the mail would be awesome. After you “test” them, you can head over to your local pet store and buy Harper tons of new playthings. *smile*

  8. 12 Jenny May 26, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Yeah they are all different sizes. Can’t believe they actually made all yours the same. Talk about making things complicated! Are the coins easy to distinguish? You can tell I’ve obviously never been to the states. Hopefully I’ll go next year, if I win the lotto in the meantime.

  9. 13 bethfinke May 26, 2011 at 8:30 am

    well, the coins have different edges to them, which helps. But their worth is not “intuitive,” if you know what I mean. Example: the dime, which is worth ten cents, is smaller and lighter than the penny, which is only worth one-cent. And we Americans don’t refer to our coins as “one-cent-pieces” or “five-cent-pieces,” we call them odd names like pennies, nickels, dimes.
    As for your trip to the States next year, no need to wait on the Lotto. I’ll happily donate a percentage of the hundred dollar bills that come my way towards your cause.

  10. 14 Sandra May 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Beth, Do you think you can mail one of those bills my way? *smile* I just got the iPod touch 4th Generation yesterday, and so far I’m liking it!

  11. 15 bethfinke May 27, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Yes, I’m thinking I may have to mail one of those bills your way, you know, just so you can use your iPod touch 4th Generation to confirm the denomination. I’ll promise I’ll forward one as soon as they arrive in my mailbox.

  12. 17 bethfinke May 27, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Cool! I think I’m going to have to take “Advanced app” courses, though, to learn how to use “privacy mode” with my currency identifier — it supposedly has Specially keyed vibrations/tones to identify the denomination instead of the voice. Mike and I went to our local tavern last night so I could show off the app to the bartender and any friends who might turn up, but it was so loud in there (Bulls playoff game) I couldn’t hear the Irish woman call out the numbers from inside my phone! If you figure out how to turn on the privacy mode, let me know –


  1. 1 Review of the iPod Touch 4th Generation « Sandra The Future Journalist Trackback on June 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm

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