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Fighting For Currency Access

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology, July 30, 2008

The American Council of the Blind was founded in 1961 and currently has members in all 50 states. ACB's mission is to increase the independence, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all blind and visually impaired Americans, and one way to do this is to ensure they can identify the denominations of their own bank notes, without the assistance of someone who is sighted.

The rate of unemployment among people who are visually impaired is unacceptably high, but job opportunities, which are at best limited and sometimes even unavailable, would be opened to us if we could identify paper money as efficiently as sighted people. This is particularly significant for young people and other first-time job seekers who are looking for entry-level positions in stores and restaurants to gain work experience.

Certainly, there are blind people who currently work in cash-intensive business situations, but they are forced to rely on the honesty of colleagues and customers, or on currency-reading technology that is slow, often inaccurate, and useless in noisy environments. Seeking verification from another person isn't necessarily any faster than using a note scanner, and it requires a blind person to either make an issue of his or her visual impairment, or risk being defrauded because of their inability to ascertain the value of U.S. bank notes.

If we are to be truly accepted as equal partners in workplaces, cultural activities and the economic life of society, it is imperative that the United States government design and issue bank notes that are readily distinguishable without vision, as each time notes are redesigned users must return currency readers to the factory to be updated for a fee.

Over 180 countries around the world have found ways to incorporate tactile features, as well as visual distinctions, into their bank notes, which enable blind and visually impaired people to differentiate between denominations. We believe it is both imminently possible and absolutely essential that this country, which has led the rest of the world through a myriad of technological, scientific and economic innovations for so long, now join the rest of the world in making it possible for blind and visually impaired people to engage in financial transactions with dignity and independence.

We recognize that the design and implementation process may take time, but we are not as concerned about speed as we are about the certainty of action to address this issue. Our organization wants to see a meaningful effort on the part of the Treasury Department to ascertain the most appropriate manner in which to provide currency that is independently identifiable by people who are visually impaired, and to incorporate such features into U.S. currency within a reasonable time.

In conclusion, I thank the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology for taking an interest in this issue. It is our sincere hope that you will support the efforts of the American Council of the Blind to obtain accessible currency in the United States.

(Note: On October 3, 2008, the District Court of Washington, DC, found the Department of the Treasury to be in violation of the Rehabilitation Act by not providing meaningful access to its paper currency for blind and partially sighted persons, and was ordered to take steps to make each denomination accessible. For further details, visit: {http://www.acb.org/magazine/2008/bf112008-2.html})

Adapted from the Braille Forum, Volume XLVII, No. 3, September 2008.