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Tools You Can Use series: iBill, the U.S. Currency Reader Device

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If someone handed you a wad of cash, how quickly would you be able to count it?  For the average person, it may take a minute or so to discern the value of the bills in their possession.  Now imagine if you were a person with a visual impairment in the same scenario:  How would you correctly distinguish between a $5 bill and an $100 bill within the pile of cash in your hands?  For those who are blind or visually impaired, being able to count money can be a challenging task that most people have never concerned before.  The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is seeking to eliminate this currency inaccessibility issue by providing the iBill, a currency reader device, for free to disabled Americans with visual disabilities.

The Inaccessibility Issue with U.S. Paper Currency

With Federal Reserve notes, commonly referred to as paper money or bills, one cannot differentiate bills tactilely; all bills are the same size and weight, regardless of their monetary value.  The BEP recognized that this was a serious issue for many disabled Americans, and began to enact several steps to provide effective currency access for those affected.  Though plans to modify U.S. currency has been outlined, the actual process of redesigning paper money is a time intensive and complex matter.  The earliest modified currency is expected to be available for Americans to possess is by 2020; in the meantime, the BEP decided to utilize technology with the hopes of providing an immediate solution to this issue.  One such remedy is the U.S Currency Reader Program and the iBill.

iBill – Allowing Disabled Americans to Count Money Without Limits  

The U.S. Currency Reader Program is a national initiative that was launched in January 2015 to provide free currency reader devices to all U.S. citizens who are blind or visually impaired.  The iBill is a small, compact, hand-held device that is about the size of a credit card, and an half an inch thick.  The iBill runs on one AAA battery, which is included in its packaging.

Using the iBill is quite simple:  insert the bill into the reader, and press a button.  The iBill device quickly identifies the value of the bill by 3 modes of distinction:  a clear natural voice, a pattern of tones, or a pattern of vibrations (which allows for privacy).  The third identifying method was created to accommodate persons who are deaf and blind.  The iBill has the ability to recognize all paper money in circulation:  $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills.

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How Does One Acquire an iBill?

Though the iBill is normally priced between $120 – $130, the BEP is making the device available for free to all individuals with visual impairments.  The BEP has a link on its website where one can apply to receive an iBill.  Interested persons may complete and mail the application (and submit disability verification documents, if appropriate) to the U.S. Currency Reader Program’s address, which is provided at the bottom of the application.  Applicants are asked to allow eight weeks for their applications to be processed, and for the iBill to be delivered via the U.S. Postal Service.

Final Thoughts

For someone who constantly thinks about disability matters non-stop, I have always wondered how those with visual impairments handled money, and if they could do so as independently as they desired.  Technology is allowing disabled persons to overcome barriers each day, and the iBill has great potential in allowing individuals with visual disabilities to have better knowledge of what is really in their wallets.

CALL FOR ACTION:  Have any of you received an iBill through the U.S. Currency Reader Program?  Is it as easy and user-friendly to apply for and utilized as described?  How has receiving the iBill impacted your financial independence in knowing how much money you have in your possession?

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Coin News.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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