Tactile Currency – Are You Feeling the New $10 Bill?

The U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving & Printing (BEP) is currently preparing for a redesign of U.S. currency. The $10 bill has been identified as the first denomination to be redesigned and launched in the 2020s. The notable changes mostly being covered by the media are new security features to deter counterfeiting and the inclusion of a portrait of a woman on the notes.  The other main change to the redesigned notes is the addition of raised tactile features allowing those with vision loss to determine the denomination by touch alone! About 65 countries have some form of tactile currency, though none are of high quality. To create a new type of tactile feature that will be easily distinguishable by users through touch only, the BEP is conducting focus groups with a number of visually impaired and blind participants. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind is fortunate to have participated as one of the focus group sites, and a number of our clients were able to give much needed feedback after trying out various types of tactile differentiation.

There are a number of challenges with creating tactile currency. One is how to create a tactile feature and have it still usable after years of wear and tear. A raised pattern can be flattened with use, making it more difficult for users to feel the feature. Other considerations include the use in current money counters and vending machines. Anything raised too high could jam money counters and is therefore not an option. Other restrictions are the limited availability space on the note. Much of the bill’s surface is reserved for security and visible design features. About 20 tactile feature options were considered by BEP about a year ago and after receiving feedback from CLB clients and others with vision loss, the field was narrowed to a half-dozen options for the most recent round of testing conducted in early December.

These testing options included slightly raised patterns close to the edges of the bill, squares at the top of the bill raised with various printing processes, raised patterns in the numbers of the bills, and raised patterns of various shapes. Participants were first given crisp sample bills with the tactile features applied to become familiar with the various patterns or shapes represented. Once comfortable with the representations, they were tested on bills in a random order that had been aged to simulate 2-3 years of use to determine the accuracy and ease of use. The information is taken back and tabulated and a few finalist options will be chosen for the next round of testing. If you were unable to participate, you can share your general thoughts about tactile currency with the BEP through meaningful.access@bep.gov.

Currently, the BEP is providing other technologies to assist individuals in denominating their currency while development of the new series of notes is underway.  As part of its meaningful access initiative, the BEP is providing a hand-held currency reader device at no cost to blind or visually impaired persons who are U.S. citizens or legal residents. In partnership with the BEP, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is processing U.S. Currency Reader Program applications and shipping currency readers to eligible individuals. To request a reader, an individual must complete and mail an application, which is available to download from www.bep.gov/uscurrencyreaderpgm.html or by calling toll-free at 844-815-9388 to request one to be mailed. Additionally, two mobile device applications are available that identify U.S. currency by using the device’s camera: EyeNote runs on all iPhones 3G and later, iPad and iPod Touch devices and can be downloaded for free from the AppStore. The IDEAL Currency Identifier operates on the Android platform and can be downloaded for free from GooglePlay.

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