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September 27, 2011 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Blind Man vs. Paper Money - the Blind Film Critic demonstrates the problems of using (American) paper money. Unsurprisingly, just getting cash out of an ATM poses its own problem.

In 2008, the District Court ruled that the Department of the Treasury must provide meaningful access to U.S. currency for blind and other visually impaired persons.

In May of this year, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner approved adding tactile features, high contrast numerals, and the implementation of a currency reader program. These will be implemented in the next currency redesign following the redesigned $100 note.

Video demonstration of folding techniques and iPhone apps for identifying money
Additional information on how to identify money
More info on iPhone apps
posted by desjardins (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 

In May of this year, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner approved adding tactile features...

this is, a good thing™, I've long felt that American money was behind the times in it's steadfast We-shall-not-change-the-properties approach, such as, say making different denominations different sizes. Yay for accessibility changes. +1
posted by edgeways at 11:43 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Remember when people talk about that urban myth about NASA building a pressurised pen to work in space and the ruskies using a pencil?

The US department of treasury spends millions developing an app to use on a rather expensive consumer device while the rest of the world just makes their notes different colours, sizes and textures.

Not to mention I feel like an idiot handing over a handful of notes for a slurpee and a hotdog.
posted by Talez at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


In 2008, the District Court ruled that the Department of the Treasury must provide meaningful access to U.S. currency for blind and other visually impaired persons.

(previously)
posted by jabberjaw at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2011


Euros are so well-designed in this regard it's shameful.
posted by benzenedream at 11:57 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My uncle deals with cash by keeping it in order in his wallet by denomination, like the guy in the video. He's got a great ability to remember exactly how many of each bill he's got at any time. If you asked me how much money I had in my wallet right now I probably wouldn't be able to tell you.

I also had a really interesting experience the other week here at work. There's a sub shop in the next building, and it recently changed ownership. I stopped in during the first day it had reopened and was surprised to find a large dog hanging out right at the door, with a guy throwing a toy around for it. Weird, I think, since having animals in places that serve food is a big no-no in the States. So I order my sandwich from the sandwich-making-lady, and it turns out this guy with the dog is the new owner of the shop.

We chat for a little while my sandwich is being made, and he wanders over to the counter and sets himself up behind the till. I grab a bag of chips, he asks me what sandwich I got, and rings me up (I think it was six dollars). I pull a twenty out of my wallet and hand it to him, and I only realized he couldn't see when he said to me, "Could you tell me what you just handed me? My eyes don't work so good." So I told him I handed him a twenty and he pulled the correct change out of the register.

Now when I go get a sandwich I make sure to say hello, tell him everything I put on the counter, and make sure I mention what money I'm giving him.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:01 PM on September 27, 2011


The US department of treasury spends millions developing an app to use on a rather expensive consumer device while the rest of the world just makes their notes different colours, sizes and textures.

If you watch the last video, it's clear the app doesn't even work well.
posted by desjardins at 12:01 PM on September 27, 2011


From the Meaningful Access page:
U.S. law prohibits any changes to the $1 Federal Reserve note.

The law that prohibits changes is called the Legal Tender Modernization Act (H.R.2528). Section 6 says:
Notwithstanding the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury under the 8th undesignated paragraph of section 16 of the Federal Reserve Act, the Secretary may not select or approve any new design for, or implement any change in the design of, $1 Federal reserve notes after the date of the enactment of this Act.
posted by metl_lord at 12:06 PM on September 27, 2011


I'm not blind, but I am English, and I find US bills a bit of a struggle every time I visit the States. British notes have a different size and colour for each denomination, and when you're used to that, it seems very starnge having to rely on the number in the corner of a bill as its sole means of identification.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:09 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fortunately many drive-through ATM's have brail.
posted by stbalbach at 12:11 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that ATM and vending machine vendors would freak if the US tried to change the size of bills.
posted by octothorpe at 12:12 PM on September 27, 2011


Talez: "The US department of treasury spends millions developing an app to use on a rather expensive consumer device while the rest of the world just makes their notes different colours, sizes and textures."

You make that sound simple. I suspect that the cost of retrofitting our printing presses and modifying the supply chain to support different size/colored bills will easily run in the tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, to say nothing of modifying all of the automatic bill acceptors around the world (which is what ultimately doomed plans to phase out the $1 bill and replace it with coins -- the vending machine industry apparently has a highly effective lobby).

It's a fairly fundamental change from the way that we've done things for ages. It's also a *good* thing, but not at all a simple fix. Developing an app is chump change by comparison.

Just like the NASA myth about pens and pencils that you so aptly mentioned, this one is wrong on a virtually every level.
posted by schmod at 12:13 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


You make that sound simple. I suspect that the cost of retrofitting our printing presses and modifying the supply chain to support different size/colored bills will easily run in the tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, to say nothing of modifying all of the automatic bill acceptors around the world (which is what ultimately doomed plans to phase out the $1 bill and replace it with coins -- the vending machine industry apparently has a highly effective lobby).

Yes. You're right. It's so bloody complicated to print notes that are different sizes and colours. I don't know how the other 179 countries in the world that issue paper money do it. Maybe somebody should ask them?
posted by Talez at 12:19 PM on September 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


My grandfather suffers from macular degeneration and has very little vision. He has folding method for his bills in different ways to identify them by shape. It works well for him since he likes the extra time he has to flirt with the bank tellers while they help him fold any money he withdraws, plus then my dad or I will visit regularly and sort through and fold any change he's collected but not identified.

The EyeNote app seems pretty silly to me, it's hard enough to find a telephone with large buttons for my grandfather, giving him a phone with no buttons isn't going to help much. Put some tactile feedback on the bill, don't make an app on an appliance with no tactile interface. Hopefully it's helpful to some people.
posted by peeedro at 12:26 PM on September 27, 2011


You should try using an iPhone blind before you knock it for not having buttons.
posted by Talez at 12:27 PM on September 27, 2011


The thing that kills me about this issue, besides how trivially easy it would be to address, is that the biggest complaint people have about Euros -- namely that they are of such varying sizes as to be somewhat difficult to organize in a wallet -- is also trivially easy to address. As is often the case, the best of both worlds is found in Switzerland. Notes are all the same height, but of different lengths. The different lengths make them easy to distinguish and the identical heights makes it easy to pick any of them out of a wallet. Also, the bright, distinctive colors make them easy to distinguish for people with poor sight or in the dark.

Also, they don't smell like socks, so there's that too...
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 12:28 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should try using an iPhone blind before you knock it for not having buttons.

Blind grandfather using an iPhone is the new shit my dad says.
posted by peeedro at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2011


Remember when people talk about that urban myth about NASA building a pressurised pen to work in space and the ruskies using a pencil?

Yes, NASA spent a lot of money developing a safer space writing system. Sometimes the simplest solution isn't the best.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:37 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Related: the recent "Blind Man Roams The Globe" series, chronicling the challenges, cultural differences and aural cues the blind British journalist Peter White must adapt to in two very different cities (San Francisco and Istanbul) gave me new respect for the everyday life of the blind.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:40 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


peeedro, how a blind person uses an iPhone and blind person using an iPhone.

The spatial feedback model is quite incredible and can help a blind person quickly visualize what a screen looks like.
posted by Talez at 12:43 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's got a great ability to remember exactly how many of each bill he's got at any time.

I can do this too. It's a single $10 bill. It's the same $10 bill that has been there for the last two months and it's likely to be the same $10 bill I have in there two months from now.

I very rarely use cash for anything so I don't really think it's that big an issue. Just make the bills of different lengths (for the people who can't use a credit card all the time for whatever reason) and lets move on.
posted by VTX at 12:47 PM on September 27, 2011


The economics and various powers revolving around our representative currency is sometimes a little amazing. I'm sure that above referenced Legal Tender Modernization Act was some sort of reaction to dollar coin talk. It's unbelievably contentious.

The Hill has a (badly written) article today about competing blahblah going on in congress about the dollar.

We're sitting on a ton (actually many many tons) of unused dollar coins, too. Mind you I don't think those are very sensibly designed either, given how close in size they are to the quarter.
posted by phearlez at 12:47 PM on September 27, 2011


I very rarely use cash for anything so I don't really think it's that big an issue.

I hope you don't mean this as insensitively as it sounds. It's not a problem for you, so it shouldn't be a problem for others?
posted by desjardins at 12:51 PM on September 27, 2011


Just make the bills of different lengths (for the people who can't use a credit card all the time for whatever reason) and lets move on.

I'm not sure I could tell the difference between bills of different lengths.

One suggestion I've heard is to cut the corners off of the bills. A quick combinatorics problem: how many ways are there to do this? It's not sixteen, since if you're blind you can't tell if the bill's been rotated. You can cut off:
- no corners;
- one corner;
- two corners diagonally opposite each other;
- two corners at opposite ends of a short side (e.g. upper left and lower left);
- two corners at opposite ends of a long side (e.g. upper left and upper right);
- three corners;
- all four corners.
There are seven ways to do this, and seven bills in circulation ($1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100), so it works pretty well.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:55 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not all. I mean, I could care less about any changes to our hard currency so it shouldn't be a big deal to change it.
posted by VTX at 12:56 PM on September 27, 2011


*Not at all.
posted by VTX at 12:59 PM on September 27, 2011


I'm pretty sure that ATM and vending machine vendors would freak if the US tried to change the size of bills.

Everything a industry is required to make a change they "freak". There are plenty of vending machines that accept dollar coins currently, despite their low circulation rate, there are vending machines that accept debit cards. I assume changes have to be made to accept redesigned coins and bills all the time. Vending machines and ATMs the world-over seem to mange it quite ok. hells bells you don't have to scrap the whole machine either, just the bill/coin reader part, which as far as I can tell is pretty modular in many machines already.

Somehow I think the world will continue to move alone just fine if the ATM machine industry in the US has to be given a kick in the pants to modernize, they could apply those obnoxious surcharge fees they charge towards something useful.
posted by edgeways at 1:11 PM on September 27, 2011


In May of this year, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner approved adding tactile features, high contrast numerals, and the implementation of a currency reader program. These will be implemented in the next currency redesign following the redesigned $100 note.

Just make bills different sizes, you know, like the rest of the world? And like coins?

I really don't get it (though I see others have made the same (super obvious) suggestion).
posted by mrgrimm at 1:14 PM on September 27, 2011


Vending machines might have an issue for now but most ATMs only have $20s in them so they could either not change that bill or the ATM vendors would have to make a small adjustment.

A lot of vending machines have credit card readers on them (I especially like the ones that read RFID so I only have to hold my wallet close to the reader). How long will it be before we're almost totally cashless and this whole thing becomes a non-issue?
posted by VTX at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2011


One suggestion I've heard is to cut the corners off of the bills.

That was Pete Stark's suggestion.

We're sitting on a ton (actually many many tons) of unused dollar coins, too. Mind you I don't think those are very sensibly designed either, given how close in size they are to the quarter.

I love dollar coins. I think they are different enough size from quarters. They are to quarters as quarters are to nickels, basically.

I'm willing to bet blind people can easily tell the difference between dollar coins and quarters.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:19 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


How long will it be before we're almost totally cashless and this whole thing becomes a non-issue?

Never.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we really going to design currency around the needs of the black market though?

If the black market is the only place where cash is used and the rest of us stop using cash, they'll just find something else. I'm not going to shed a tear for head of a drug cartel who has trouble counting his money because his sight is going.
posted by VTX at 1:24 PM on September 27, 2011


I'm not blind, but I am English, and I find US bills a bit of a struggle every time I visit the States. British notes have a different size and colour for each denomination, and when you're used to that, it seems very starnge having to rely on the number in the corner of a bill as its sole means of identification.

The coins are pretty bad too, with few denominations and that stupid dime. I don't how the US has achieved the worst–designed currency in the world, but it sure is an achievement. Even small improvements such as the introduction of the dollar coin seems to have been rejected. As though yet another scruffy green banknote is somehow superior.
posted by Jehan at 1:29 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two years ago, I was in Detroit, and wanted to put 5 bucks into a gallery pay what you can bucket, and ended up putting 50 in. I can't tell american money apart.

a
posted by PinkMoose at 1:35 PM on September 27, 2011


yeah, I think the argument that it's "too onerous or expensive" for vending machine manufacturers is bunk. Just like the rest of the world, you simply mandate that all new machines have to accept the new bills, and phase out the old ones over time. In Canada we eliminated the 1 dollar bill and then the 2 dollar bill over a number of years, and society didn't collapse and we have the same array of vending machines in all the same places as exist in the U.S. The technology is there, it's eminently do-able. As far as I can tell, what holds the U.S. back from making the change is that weird element of the population that is utterly terrified of the govt and thinks that any change to polymer bills of noticeably different colours and sizes must be some kind of socialist plot. You know what I'm talking about. I can imagine the email chains already. "Muslim Kenyan Barack Hussain Obama Wants to Destroy the Greenback!!"
posted by modernnomad at 1:56 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's funny how in a country that could put a man on the moon, you'd worry about changing the design of the money. Lots of countries in Europe even switched currencies, nevermind just the shape of their bills.
posted by dabitch at 2:11 PM on September 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


. As far as I can tell, what holds the U.S. back from making the change is that weird element of the population that is utterly terrified of the govt and thinks that any change to polymer bills of noticeably different colours and sizes must be some kind of socialist plot. You know what I'm talking about. I can imagine the email chains already.

Like this? Got that email from my neighbor a while back.
posted by tippiedog at 2:15 PM on September 27, 2011


I miss polymer bills. I keep an Australian $50 note in my wallet just to remind me of home and how much better our money is. Just being able to feel it is nice.
posted by Talez at 2:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


yeah, I think the argument that it's "too onerous or expensive" for vending machine manufacturers is bunk.

Except that the business lobbies for those and other industries that won't want to spend the money to upgrade will lobby to get any changes blocked. And nothing will change. As usual.
posted by octothorpe at 4:16 PM on September 27, 2011


...the ATM machine industry in the US has to be given a kick in the pants to modernize.

No time. Too busy rigging elections.
posted by rokusan at 4:20 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The trouble with cutting off the corners of bills to identify them is that bill corners often get torn and ratty. Punching holes in the bill would enable people to identify them just as well.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:37 PM on September 27, 2011


The trouble with cutting off the corners of bills to identify them is that bill corners often get torn and ratty.

They could also be maliciously altered, e.g. to fool that blind sandwich vendor mentioned upthread.

My uncle deals with cash by keeping it in order in his wallet by denomination, like the guy in the video. He's got a great ability to remember exactly how many of each bill he's got at any time.

To be sure, as a fully sighted person (well, I have one tiny diabetic blind spot now and expect more in the years to come), I used to be a bit anal about my paper money and organize it and flatten it on my desk corner and such. I found that the simple act of keeping it organized this way was enough mental attention that I almost always knew the exact count.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 PM on September 27, 2011


Not every good thing for society is a bad thing for business. Where are the lobbying dollars from the bill scanner manufacturers in all this? I mean, how cool would it be to be a CEO and say to congress, "pass this bill that helps blind people and oh by the way will also make our customers buy all our products all over again."
posted by Riki tiki at 7:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't do anything like this at all until 2013. Otherwise, Obama might get credit for creating jobs or helping blind folks. We can't have Obama getting credit for anything. Nothing is important but making sure Obama looses. Let people die, hell, kill a few of 'em. Let 'em starve. Let 'em kill themselves. That's fine. It's all Obama's fault. Nothing is important but making Obama loose.
posted by Goofyy at 3:10 AM on September 28, 2011


In other crazy currency news: Treasury continues to store millions of dollar coins nobody wants, because they're required to make them.
If the mandate to make presidential coins wasn't enough to generate a growing heap of unwanted coins, a political deal ensured that even more unwanted coins would be produced.

It was easier for the bill's sponsor, then-Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), to move the presidential coin bill forward if it didn't displace other dollar coins honoring Sacagawea, the teenage Native American guide to Lewis and Clark.

The deal: The mint would be required to make a quota of Sacagawea coins. Currently, the law says 20 percent of dollar coins made must have Sacagawea on them.

So, there are now about 1.2 billion dollar-coin "assets" chilling in Federal Reserve vaults, unloved and bearing no interest. By the time the presidential coin series finishes, and there are coins honoring all past presidents, there could be 2 billion.

Several congressional leaders contacted by NPR declined to comment for this story.
posted by odinsdream at 11:01 AM on September 28, 2011


I just casually mentioned this story to my boss and I think he had an idea for an awesome solution.

Just put bar-codes or something similar on the bills. If you're sight-impaired, you can either get a small, cheap, pocket size scanner or your smart-phone could read it. It doesn't require any significant re-engineering of the currency or much of anything else that interacts with it and doesn't require anyone who does something else to keep track of their cash to change.

Yes, a person could fake the bar-code to fool the scanner but the feel and texture of US currency is really hard to fake.

The only issue would be people someone modifying the bar-code on a bill itself (changing a $1 bill's code to read as a $20) but I don't think that would be a huge problem to solve and wouldn't usually be an issue.
posted by VTX at 11:46 AM on September 28, 2011


s'fine except for the fact you then are saying that you need to buy a fancy gadget and have it on you at all times in order to have the same access to money, when a one time redesign would solve the problem as well.
posted by edgeways at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2011


The one-time redesign creates a lot of other problems though as mentioned above. The scanners don't have to be fancy and they could (and should) certainly be subsidized. Anyone who has a smart phone would be able to get the app for free and anyone who is blind but doesn't use cash doesn't have a problem either way.
posted by VTX at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2011


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