Money Talks

Until accessible U.S. currency makes its much-anticipated debut in 2020, the Perkins Library is distributing the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier device to people who are blind

The iBill currency reader with a $20 dollar bill in it.

Since September 2014, more than 1,800 currency readers have been distributed by Perkins free of charge to registered library patrons in Massachusetts.

For Mary Haroyan and others who are visually impaired, there is nothing to distinguish a $10 bill from its $5 and $20 counterparts. Each bill is uniform in size, weight and texture, forcing members of the blind community to frequently rely on help from their sighted peers to identify what’s in their wallet.

Last fall, the Perkins Library began distributing a simple solution to this common problem – the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier.

Smaller than a cell phone, the iBill scans the corner of a bill and announces the bank note’s value through voice notification, beep sequence or pattern of vibrations. Since September 2014, more than 1,800 currency readers have been distributed by Perkins free of charge to registered library patrons in Massachusetts.

For Haroyan, the compact device has allowed her to independently keep track of her money.

“I don’t worry now about having to rely on someone to tell me what a currency is,” she said. “To have this device that I can just pull out so easily, stick a bill in and it will tell me – it gives me a real sense of freedom.”

The Perkins Currency Reader Program is part of a partnership with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), which also distribute the iBill. Across the nation, more than 30,000 people have requested the device from a talking book library or blindness organization.

“I know a lot of people have called and said, ‘Thank you, thank you, it’s made such a difference,’” said Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson. “Having the independence to identify currency yourself is important to so many.”

Charlson, in her role as president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), is deeply involved in ongoing efforts to introduce accessible currency in the United States. The first tactile banknote, a $10 bill, is scheduled to make its debut in 2020.

At the ACB’s annual conference in July, BEP Chief Counsel Sidney Rocke said testing is still in progress to determine a tactile bill design that will function well in ATMs and money-counting machines.

“If you’re going to have a tactile feature, it’s got to be done right,” he said. “That’s what we’re working very, very hard to do.”

In the meantime, the iBill currency reader is an ideal solution for many, he said.

“The good news is the currency readers are out there, they’re being used and we’re going to continue to give them out,” he said.

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