First accessible U.S. currency note should debut in 2020

Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson gives update about efforts to make currency accessible to Americans who are blind or visually impaired

A Perkins student touches a prototype U.S. currency note with tactile features

In 2013, Perkins students and Perkins Library patrons were asked by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing to test prototype U.S. currency notes with different kinds of tactile elements.

August 7, 2015

Americans with visual impairments who are waiting for accessible U.S. currency will have to wait a little longer, reports Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson.

It will be another five years before the Treasury Department is ready to distribute the first currency note with tactile features, said Charlson after returning from the annual conference of the American Council of the Blind (ACB).

“They’re on a timeline for a rollout in 2020,” she said. “The $10 bill is going to be the first bill that comes out with a tactile feature, and as they redesign the other currency notes, they’ll roll them out one at a time.”

Charlson, in her role as ACB president, has been at the forefront of a campaign to modify U.S. paper money to make it identifiable by people who are blind or visually impaired. In 2008, a Federal District Court ruled that the Treasury Department must provide accessible currency notes.

Charlson heard an update on the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s (BEP) ongoing efforts to comply with that ruling from BEP Chief Council Sidney Rocke, who spoke in July at the ACB’s annual conference in Dallas, Texas. The news was both promising and discouraging, she said.

“The Bureau is basically back in design determination – trying to figure out what (tactile) element is going to work, and how high it has to be,” Charlson said. “The whole process is monumental, but they are still committed to some sort of tactile feature.”

In 2013, the Perkins Library partnered with the BEP to host a testing session at Perkins’ Watertown campus, inviting patrons who are blind or visually impaired to provide feedback on various tactile elements. Over 40 people from more than 20 cities and towns participated.

Other countries incorporate a variety of features in currency notes to make them accessible, including differently sized bills, high-contrast design, raised print and braille elements. The BEP has considered all kinds of accessibility features, Rocke said at the ACB conference, but is still working to ensure that accessible bills are durable, functional and resistant to counterfeiting.

“It’s very, very complicated,” he said. “We have to work with a lot of folks to make sure that everyone’s interests are protected. But we’re in the process of doing that.”

In the meantime, the BEP is providing currency readers free of charge through organizations like the Perkins Library, which has facilitated the distribution of more than 1,800 iBill Talking Banknote Identifiers to registered library borrowers. The device scans a bill and announces the bank note’s value through voice notification, a beep sequence or pattern of vibrations.

Perkins Library patrons who are visually impaired can request a free iBill currency reader by contacting the library at (617) 972-7240 or (800) 852-3133, or by emailing