It seems that making money for the blind and visually impaired communities is more of a challenge than governments and central banks originally thought, at least in the USA.Â As a result of a successful discrimination lawsuit brought by theÂ American Council of the Blind (ACB)Â in 2008, the US Treasury department was tasked with making US banknotes more accessible for the visually impaired.
The US Treasury and The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) collaborated on a three-phased solution:
- Big numbers
- Banknote Readers
- Tactile Feature(s)
Although recent issues of all denominations but the one dollar note have featured large numbers, there has as yet been no introduction of a tactile feature. Technology has been employed in the US by the visually impaired for years, which is now aided by smartphone readers and pocket-sized readers such as the iBill Reader distributed freely by the BEP starting last summer. Technology is a fantastic tool for the visually impaired when it is available and working. The problem is the only real tool a blind or visually impaired person can rely on when handling money is their sense of touch.
Other countries like Canada and Australia have successfully adopted tactile features into their banknotes without the resulting calamity of jammed ATM’s, banknote counters and banknote sorting machines. Perhaps in the US there is more reason than just machines for remaining cool on tactile features. With US banknotes being the most widely used currency in the world and possessing a relatively long lifespan it is likely that any tactile feature would degrade towards uselessness long before the destruction and replacement of the banknote. In the above noted examples of Canada and Australia, both countries employ polymer substrates that have both a long life expectance and the ability to retain tactile features pressed into the note (something like braille dots).
The BEP remains committed to finding and incorporating a suitable tactile feature on US banknotes that the blind and visually impaired communities will find easy and reliable. However there is obvious pressure from a number of constituents of equal weight and opposite objectives. With the ACB pushing in one direction (a struggle they cannot lose from a legal standpoint) and the ATM community, off-shore banknote demands and composition restrictions shoving back with equal vigour, it will be interesting to see what compromises can appease all stakeholders.