For millions with print disabilities, American paper currency is inaccessible—unlike most foreign currency, which distinguishes denominations by size and color, even texture and smell, to ensure that error and confusion do not occur.
In 2008, a U.S. District Court held that American paper currency discriminates against people with print disabilities. Since that time, federal agencies have been working together to develop and produce viable solutions.
This past September, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on disability policy, convened a forum to discuss developments and estimated timelines for the introduction of accessible currency in the United States. One of the NCD’s members is Janni-Lehrer Stein, a national trustee of the Foundation who is affected with retinitis pigmentosa. During the forum, more than 100 participants — including members of the NCD, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve Board and the Secret Service — explored the federal government’s plan to render American currency accessible.
These plans include two major components:
– Introduction of phased-in paper bills with tactile features, commencing in 2019 with the redesign of the $10 bill. The new features include brilliant colors, raised numerics and a tactile Braille cell that distinguishes the bills by the number of symbols — one on the $5, two on the $10, etc.
– Free currency readers (the Eyenote for Apple devices, which is already available for download, and a similar app for Androids, anticipated shortly) and standalone devices that will allow current denominations to be audibly perceived.
A summary of the forum is available on the NCD website, and a Bureau of Engraving and Printing white paper on the subject describes the complex issues involved. They include counterfeit protection, timetables for the redesigned bills, the phased extinction of existing currency and changes in worldwide banking and circulation.
The announcements and discussion at the September forum represent the culmination of years of research, outreach and collaboration between the federal agencies. They also serve as evidence and a great reminder of efforts underway to ensure full participation of Americans with disabilities.
For people with retinal degenerative diseases, we hope these planned currency changes result in the exchange of money with increased confidence, security and ease.