A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet people from the US Bureau of Engraving, which designs and produces paper money, amongst other things, for the United States government. I was surprised to learn about the world of free resources for identifying US currency, and today’s post is all about the money, money, money. Here is how to identify money with low vision and vision loss using assistive technology and other methods.
Bill folding method
Teachers of the visually impaired frequently teach how to identify money with visual impairment by folding bills in different ways. I actually found an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to bill folding for the blind and visually impaired, which recommended the following method for bill folding:
- Leave $1 bills unfolded.
- Fold $5 bills lengthwise.
- Then fold $10 bills by width
- Fold $20 bills lengthwise and then by width, and/or put them in a separate compartment
I didn’t have access to all of these bills while putting together this post, so here is a picture credited to the US State Department on how this bill folding method works.
Got Braille? The Click Pocket allows users to identify money with visual impairment and indent Braille on money by putting the edge of the bill into the small Brailler. This does not damage the bills and can be used in addition to the folding method. I got my Click Pocket for free at a conference, but they can be purchased on Maxi-Aids for $6.
iBill currency reader
The iBill currency reader is a small device that identifies US currency either by announcing the value of the bill or through vibration feedback. It took a couple of tries for me to get it to work at first, but after ten minutes the device was working great and identifying all of the money in my wallet. It runs on a triple A (AAA) battery and fits easily in a purse or pocket. I would recommend this device for people who do not have smartphones or that don’t like high-tech assistive technology.
Get the iBill for free
While you can buy the iBill currency reader on Amazon for about $130, US citizens or legal residents can also get one for free through the US Bureau of Engraving. This is the exact same device that is sold on Amazon and requires users to mail in a form. The form does require certification from another authority that the person is visually impaired, which can be certified by doctors, case managers, rehabilitation teachers, counselors, and similar.
- U.S. Currency Reader Application Form | Bureau of Engraving and Printing (bep.gov)
- US Government Programs For Blind/Low Vision Residents
The EyeNote app for iOS allows users to identify money with visual impairment using their device camera, and also indicates whether it is the front or back side of the bill. It also continuously scans, meaning that users don’t have to do anything with the app other than open it. This app was developed by the US Bureau of Engraving.
IDEAL Currency Identifier
The IDEAL Currency Identifier app for Android also allows users with blindness and low vision to identify money, though has less features than EyeNote. I found that this app works less well for bills that are very wrinkled or in poor lighting, but I was still able to get results fairly quickly. I like that it is very easy to use, especially for students just learning how to identify money.
Users with Android phones that have Google Assistant also have Google Camera, which is accessed by tapping the camera icon in the bottom right corner of the Google Assistant screen. From there, users can hold up bills and coins from a variety of countries, and the Google Assistant will identify them, no matter how wrinkled they are. I like how easy this is to access on my Google Pixel 2, though I’m not sure how many other phones support this. This app is pre-installed on compatible phones
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
- Google Lens Review For Low Vision
- Google Lookout App For Low Vision
Microsoft’s Seeing AI app supports the ability to identify money with visual impairment from the US. There is also support for Canadian dollars, British pounds, and Euros as of publishing time. I like that I don’t have to switch to another app if I am using Seeing AI already for something else, and that it also works for currency from countries other than the US.
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Recognizing Images With Seeing AI
- Visual Assistance Apps: Post Round Up
Fun fact- the US Bureau of Engraving does not design or produce coins, that is done by the United States Mint. For identifying coins, people with vision impairments often distinguish coins based on size and texture of the outer ridge- pennies are smooth, while dimes have ridges. I also identify them by the sound they make when they fall out of my hand, which happens more often than I care to admit.
In the future- tactile bill
While many countries have tactile currency, the United States is in the progress of adding tactile and high-contrast labels to their next redesign for paper bills. This was supposed to begin rolling out in 2020 and not many details have been released, so I am not sure what the progress is on the release schedule for the new tactile currency.
Summary of how to identify money with low vision
- Fold bills in different ways to indicate currency values
- Add Braille to the edge of bills with the ClickPocket
- Use a currency reader app such as EyeNote or Ideal
- Visual assistance apps such as Google Assistant and Microsoft Seeing AI can recognize paper bills and non-US currency
- Coins can be identified by size and feeling the ridges on the side
- The US is planning to add additional tactile labels to money in the future, though no formal date has been announced