American money is very hard on blind people

Tommy Edison, the blind film critic last featured here demonstrating an "accessible" ATM explains the inaccessible design of US money and the difficulties it presents for people with vision problems.


  1. Not to be insensitive, but this is not any different than many other countries. If the cost could be justified for adding some Braille dots to the dollar – I would vote for that.

    It would be more true to say “Everything is very hard on Blind People (anywhere in the World)”.

    Sorry for the early morning “Patriotism” – but that article Title really bugs me. Perhaps I just need another cup of coffee…or two.

    1. „Many other countries“ doesn’t really count. It is possible to make paper money more friendly to the blind  or vision-imapaired.  Just use different sizes, colours and yes, put some enhancements on them.

      It doesn’t even have to be Braille – Euro notes simply have (among other traits, of course) embossed numbers which can be felt by the blind (and other people who feel like it.)

      1. By stating “American” in the Title – this narrows the context and indicates a unique quality – this is not a unique quality to only American money. So yes – it does count.

        As for the Euro – that is a relatively new currency. If the time comes – I would surely vote for something like this. Hopefully, it would sill be worth something (joke).

        1. “In his ruling, Robertson said that of 180 countries issuing paper
          currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size
          and color in all their denominations.”

        2. Even before the Euro German and other European bank notes had provisions for impaired people.

          And what does „new“ mean anyway?  The Euro is nine years old (as a paper and coin currency), , a hundred dollar bill has an average life span of 7 years or so.

          Regarding the „American“ in the title – I believe this is a news segment from American for Americans concerning american matters. Pointing out that some countries have badly designed money is kind  of irrelevant to the matter, that other countries – with currencies rivaling the dollar – have better designs is not. 

          It’s doable, it’s helpful to the blind and your tills will not spontaneously explode or otherwise wreck your economy. And a bit of colour besides black and green will to bankrupt the Federal Resever, either.

        3. “As for the Euro – that is a relatively new currency.”

          The pound sterling is the world’s oldest currency still in use (well over a thousand years old) and we manage to have different sized notes so that’s an invalid arguement.

          Changing sizes of coins and notes is not as much of an upheaval as people seem to think. If plans are announced well in advance, the new information can be added to vending machines in their annual service.

    2. Braille dots wouldn’t be a very good idea, I think, because they would degrade and become illegible pretty quickly. Lots of other countries have bills that are simply different sizes for the different values, which is pretty elegant. There’s no reason that all bills need to have the same dimensions.

      Oh, and with regard to the title and your “patriotism”, American money really is pretty uniquely bad among major currencies with regard to being accessible to the visually impaired. Euros are different sizes and has a different texture over the numbers, Canadian money has tactile symbols in the corners, Japanese notes are different sizes.

      1. I agree wholeheartedly. For the sake of ultimate pedantery, Japanese cash also has tactile symbols in the corners. 

        The US redesigns it’s cash to be uglier every 3 years. There’s no excuse for not being able to add accessibility for the blind. 

        (If it’s a matter of cost for the US, I hear North Korea manufactures them at a reasonable price.)

    3. This is like saying an article about American road maintenance is defective because there are potholes in other countries, too.

    4. totally disagree

      most currency of other modern nations have bills of different denominations be of different sizes

      some even have ridged textures

      it doesn’t have to be “braille dots”

    5. “Not to be insensitive, but this is not any different than many other countries. ”
      Not to be impolite but you cannot possibly be “wronger”.

      Even in the backward third world countries I’ve visited the bills were of different size. Nothing fancy, just that bigger currency notes were larger.

      I recall looking at a display in O’Hare shortly after the Euro was introduced of their paper notes: each denomination was of a different size.  I also recall reading that the Euro designers worked with a blind advocacy group to ensure they could id the different notes.

      I find it more than interesting that the federal government didn’t hesitate to order the private sector to spend billions to make retail stores accessible to the disabled. (I bet there’s a federal reg requiring Braille on ATMs.) They also insisted that communities spend billions making curbs accessible to the wheel-chair bound but when the government is faced with the obvious (can anything be more obvious?) problem of making its currency “readable” by the blind their attitude is “screw you!”.

    1. Better, I’d imagine.  They’re all different sizes.  Dimes and pennies are close but dimes have ridges. 

      Only problem is the biggest, best coin in circulation is only worth $0.25.  You need 20 of them to buy a sandwich.

  2. I had a blind customer when I worked at a bank some years ago, and I had to hand him his money one denomination at a time, which he would then fold with a particular pattern for each bill.  Definitely more difficult than it would be with, say, Euro notes. This has been a complaint for years in the visually-impaired community.

  3. Actually, it’s the small things that matter.

    In Britain, bigger bank notes are bigger (each one is about 5x7mm larger than the previous denomination) and are different colours (green/orange/purple/red – sure, it doesn’t help 100% blind people but it’ll help a good proportion of the partially sighted)

    Also, our coins are fairly distinctive: (£1/£2 are fatter than the others; the 20p/50p are seven sided; the 5p/10p have milled edges and the 1p/2p are boring. Each pair are small/large, too.)

    1. Same deal in norway, where there was a redesign of the edge of the 10 coin after a complaint that people could not tell them from the 1 coin (same basic size but the 1 is silver while the 10 is gold). End result was sequence of ridges and flats that helps to even pick them out on sight, allowing for easy edge on counting of a stack.

  4. In the UK the bank of England considered Braille, but according to the RNIB, many blind people don’t use it (I guess most people have age related blindness, and haven’t taken to Braille)

    UK currency as a result has different sized notes, going from 70mm wide to 80mm wide from £5 to £50 notes.  

  5. Just making them different sizes (as they are in most countries) would help. That said paper money is, err how can I put it, very bad value for money. The lowest denominations get replaced so often that their cost is almost their face value per year. It’s time at least the $1 went the way of the dodo and the SBA or the newer version of coin replaced it. I don’t know what it is about American’s non use of coins. I have no coin jar at home as I actually use them the next time I go out so I never build up a stack. That said where possible I do everything I can electronically.

    I should add it’s also very hard on people who are blind drunk – green on one side grey on the other… Very hard to pay the cab driver…. ;)

  6. Anyone have any information on why the American notes have no mechanisms for helping the visually impaired? Almost every other country in the world manages it (different sizes, raised numbers, different colours), so it is surprising that the US doesn’t. 

  7. Changing bill sizes would be a massive cost to both the public sector and private. I would guess hundreds and hundreds of millions when everything is said and done. It’s one of the reasons blindness groups don’t go after this as a key issue.

    1. Don’t the designs on US notes every change? I don’t know how often they change in the UK but it seems about every decade the notes go through a revision where new security is introduced along with a new design (e.g. picture of some dead guy). Couldn’t the US notes simply be changed along with the regular updating of designs?

      1.   The designs change, but the physical dimensions stay exactly the same.

          To have a real gain for the blind, you really need to change the size of the bills. Since all the current machining/processes are built around a specific size of sheet, it is actually a rather large undertaking to change all the machining to a variable sized paper currency.

        1. Nope. This is why we have mathematics, and is why bills come off the press in a sheet and are afterwards cut to size.

          Changing the orientation of the bill layout 90 degrees and replacing the bill-cut knives’ spacing = relatively inexpensive. If they phased out $1 bills, they could retool those presses and processes.

          But they won’t do it — it creates a perception of devaluation of the US Dollar.

          1.   If you look at the actual process, everything you say with have to incorporate engineering changes. The current equipment have brackets to hold the plates in a specific orientation and configuration. They have cutters that are specifically geared to run along exact lines.

              (Just changing the orientation does nothing..  its still two cuts, they have to have different sizes for 6 different currencies. The plates need to match and handle the speed and throughput. Consider that each bill has a different serial number.  Its a rather major modification and, quite frankly, it is better to build each for a dedicated press for each currency. These presses crank out roughly 38 million bills per day. You gain nothing with trying for trying multiuse operations.)

    2. Oh please, just recently a group of countries threw out their old money and introduced totally new notes, with a new name.  Some of them also ditched their smaller paper denominations and had to start using coins where they used to use notes. 

      Was doable.  

      1. Easy there, tiger. I didn’t say it’s not doable. Just said it would be massively expensive. From printing hardware, to ATMs, to industrial handling of money, to people’s wallets. And what authority do I have this on? Personal conversations with the leaders of the largest and most politically active blindness organizations in the world.

        Is expensive.

  8. One of the reasons Canadian money is different colours is because only a small percentage of blind people are completely blind, the rest can still discern shapes and colours to some degree.  Those who can’t can read specific textures built into the bills.  I just don’t understand why the US is so slow to catch on to this.

  9. “By stating “American” in the Title – this narrows the context and indicates a unique quality – this is not a unique quality to only American money. So yes – it does count.”

    OMG another blog entry criticizing  gods own country …. US patriots to the rescue!

    USA! USA! USA!

  10. So would you be happier if it had said “American money (and money from some other countries) is very hard on blind people” (which defeats the object of a headline), or “Paper money is very hard on blind people” (which is inaccurate)?

    It seems like you’re trying to make a point, but I’m not sure what that point is?

  11. Who cares if other countries also suck at this? The fact is, regardless of who else has money that’s difficult for the blind to deal with, America does in fact have difficult money.

    “Suzy was doing it too!” is not actually legit reasoning for the money staying as is, so let’s not focus on scrounging up some worse examples so we can all sigh with relief and say “Whew, so it’s totally normal to fuck over the blind for no other reason then tradition or aesthetics – everyone’s doing it! glad we dodged that bullet, we almost had to care about this!”

  12. At the very least, the most recent iteration of US bills has started adding some color, making things easier for folks who are visually impaired, but not totally blind (fives have some purple, tens have orange and yellow, twenties have orange and green, fifties have red and blue, and hundreds will be teal and purple when they’re released)

    My favorite blind-accessible unit of currency? The relatively new two shekel coin from Israel. The edge of the coin has a combination of smooth and ridged parts, giving it a unique feel. It’s slightly larger than the one shekel coin, which is smooth, and smaller than the five shekel coin, which is 12-sided, and not perfectly round.

  13. How often are people required to use actual cash anymore.  Other than vending machines and farmer’s markets I think most transactions can use credit/debit.  We’re heading for a paperless society so I’m kind of loath to invest in revamping something which will soon be obsolete. 

    1. How often are people required to use actual cash anymore.  Other than vending machines and farmer’s markets I think most transactions can use credit/debit.  We’re heading for a paperless society so I’m kind of loath to invest in revamping something which will soon be obsolete.

      I could be wrong, but I am guessing there will be a persistant need to handle small, anonymous transactions, and in low-tech situations. I don’t see it needing to be cash — maybe we’ll have “credit tiles” as in sci fi — but, for example, I don’t see people trusting or wanting to pay the corner hot-dog-vendor with a credit card, and I don’t see the economics of that kind of transaction being favorable to implementing pay-by-phone or pay-by-card. Maybe if by government fiat, I guess.

  14. Anyone have any information on why the American notes have no mechanisms for helping the visually impaired? Almost every other country in the world manages it (different sizes, raised numbers, different colours), so it is surprising that the US doesn’t

    I’m curious about this too. I’m guessing the answer is simply, “no one thought of it from the beginning, and to change now would be outrageously expensive”.  There may even be nationalist/social identity reasons. If you are a US citizen you may remember an amount of griping when they added the colors, and this was a relatively subtle change. Can you imagine if they changed the shape?
    Not knowing any better, though, I would think adding embossed or texture features should be achievable — and  much less disruptive than changing size or shape.

  15. “Regarding the „American“ in the title – I believe this is a news segment from American for Americans concerning american matters. ”

    That’s what I thought. And so the conversation that emerges will concentrate on US currency, comparing it sometimes to other currencies but never actually shifting the focus. 

    Makes perfect sense to me.

    (also, will the BB comment engine EVER remember my login? I am so sick of having to login every single time. Yes, I have ‘remember me’ checked.)

  16. While I do not want to seem insensitive to the visually impaired, I don’t think the U.S. mint or any other countries mint should have to incur the costs of implementing changes to existing currency and retrofitting bill accepting machines.  In less than a minute I was able to google and find handheld technology to enable those who are visually impaired to immediately determine the denominations of U.S. currency.  It’s called the Franklin Talking Bill Reader, and it’s offered by  It’s outrageously priced at $300, which I know may put it out of reach for some people, but who knows, it could possibly be covered by medical insurance (or it should be).  There are also apps for smart phones and multi-pocketed wallets that aid the impaired.  Additionally, since the advent of the debit card in point of sale transactions the use of hard currency has decreased significantly.  There are lots of options really. 

    1. You’re correct, these things do exist and they’re very useful – My workplace has dozens of gadgets like this for various tasks (ones that identify the colour of things, ones that let you know when LEDs are flashing visibly, ones that change pitch based on how distant something is from you, etc) . There are two flaws:

      1) The single-purpose devices add up in size, fast. Carrying around that device just to read banknotes when needed is not a great idea, but it’s perfect for people checking notes at home or as part of their job. If you’re paying for your groceries and the batteries run out, what do you do? do you hand over all your notes and hope the person serving you is honest?
      2) The mobile phone apps are great but slow. You have to open the app (often using the voice interface), take a picture, wait for it to process the image, and hope that it wasn’t blurry/the lighting was good/you didn’t accidentally block part of the note with your hand. Assuming things go smoothly and you have a quick phone, you can work out what banknote you have in a mere 30 seconds – better hope you get the right note the first time.

      Braille on the note wouldn’t work that well, and braille use is actually becoming less common. A lot of young blind folk now grow up with voice interfaces/qwerty keyboards and never bother to learn more than the rudiments of braille.

      And finally: Other countries have done this before. Almost all the countries listed here didn’t start off with blind-friendly banknotes, they’ve changed them along the way. If you don’t want to change the size you can do a hell of a lot with texturing.

  17. Well since making different sizes seems to be a PITA, why not just place cutouts in the bill itself?

    Say in the top right corner, you could have no cut out for say $1, triangle for $5, ect..  You’d probably have to have multiples to satisfy all five of the most common bills, but it wouldn’t add much to the production cost of the current bill.  They would still work in vending machines and cash registers.

    Just my 0.02 cents…

  18. So it seems this has become like metrification in the States; the cost has become so large because of the scale of the task that it will never happen. And I expect there would be all sorts of lobbying and angry blogs about it too.

  19. In Argentina, bills have  raised squares (lines or rounded rectangles)for the blind.  Granted, Argentina has had many opportunities to change their bill designs, so I don’t expect the USA to be as advanced as Argentina in this matter.


  20. As one with horrible eyes, I empathize. But one can’t expect any gov to  go through the costs of altering their money for a very small segment of the population. (If they do, can they please make money that isn’t repelled by me?)

    If the US did an overhaul of their money, it would be something they should do.

    AND – this gives me a reason to share my great idea: Start having advertisements on one dollar bills. That’s right – MAKE MONEY MAKING MONEY!!

    There would be a rectangle that takes up 1/3rd or so of the back, and within there would be where an ad would be printed. Every time you printed a dollar you would be making 1 or 2 bucks through advertising. It would raise interest in collecting, and they could make things similar to “proof” sets. “Hey trade you my Nike Air Jordons, for your Apple iPad!”

  21. Random musings… I don’t think cutouts in bills would work well in machinery like vending machines and bill counters. More colors and different sizes would be the best approach, I believe. Maybe embossing, but again I’d worry about wear and tear.

    It does seem to me that $1 and perhaps $2 coins would solve the problem of vending machines. They generally don’t take $5 or greater bills anyway; the government is promoting the use of dollar coins already. (I saw an poster for that in the Metro this morning, in fact.) A lot of vendies are set up to use them. 

    The cash slots in registers are mostly separate trays that lift out–if I had a bank, I’d be all over using them as promotions for my small business services. People replace their wallets frequently, I think. The main problems would come with larger retail chains who’d have a lot of cash trays to replace at once and people who use currency counters. (IMNSHO, of course.)

    I think that some retailers would benefit from different-colored bills because of the people who try to claim that they gave a $20 when they actually gave a $10. I’ve seen that in my local chain convenience store many times. Otherwise, I’m having a hard time thinking about ways to counter business opposition to the cost.

    I think public resistance would be the biggest problem. People don’t want their money to look like all that funny currency from lesser countries.

  22. how about holes in the bills? like 1 for $ and 2 for $5 easier then changing the size of money. or different materials? Even just on a tiny portion of the bill.

  23. I am an American. I live in France. I am not visually imparied. I can reach in my pocket and pull out a specific bill. I can pull a wad of crumpled bills out and pluck the bill I need out right away. I can sort coins for exact change in seconds without thinking. Old people can do this too. It means when I am buying cheese and or baguettes the people in front of me pay faster. I pay faster. MORE MONEY MORE FASTER!!!!  MORE MORE WIN WIN! FASTER! Good? Oui?

    Eveyone’s right though, why do things that make sense?

    It could be cheaper to manufacture traffic lights to be all the same color green, just determine the meaning from the different levels. If the top green light is on, go, the middle light means slow down, and the bottom one means stop!

        1. You’ve said the same thing a dozen times.  I deleted the redundancies.  You’ve failed to convince anyone, and repeating yourself isn’t going to make it any better.  It just annoys everybody who has to read you saying the same thing over and over.

          You stop being a blithering blatherskite and I’ll stop taking out your redundant comments.

      1. I happen to think Kaffenated is an idiot^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hcompletely wrong, but at least he/she/it is prepared to argue the corner, and the link is relevant. What’s he problem?

        K – I’m kidding…mostly ;-)

  24. Kaffenated’s link is inaccurate at least for one country. In Poland, we have all four differentiation methods, while the list only acknowledges one.

    Probably because it’s a list from sixteen years ago.

      1. Good point. But if you’re using cash, how do you know you didn’t hand over a ten instead of a one? Or even more to the point, with coins, a dollar coin instead of a quarter? The only difference between those is the color.

  25. It’s not problem to add new bills. Just introduce the new bills and let the old ones be valid for say 10 years or so. After a year the old bills would be a rare sight and the slower among us still have 9 years to to get rid of the old bills they have stuffed in their matress.

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