A New U.K. Banknote Is Designed to Be Friendly to the Blind - Atlas Obscura
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A New U.K. Banknote Is Designed to Be Friendly to the Blind

Visually impaired people in the United States, however, still have a while to wait.

Can't feel anything.
Can’t feel anything. Public domain

Sorting out one’s finances is important. But American currency doesn’t particularly lend itself to any kind of sorting, especially for the visually impaired, since all the banknotes are the same size, shape, and feel. That single in your pocket could very well be a fin, sawbuck, Jackson, or C-note.

Blind people don’t have the same problem everywhere, though. The Bank of England’s new £10 note, for example, is designed to be easily recognizable by touch. The new note, which features Jane Austen (the only non-Queen female on British money these days), features a series of raised dots in its upper-left corner and fine raised lines on its sides. These features, coupled with a new material—smooth, durable plastic polymer—should make it easily identifiable.

“The difference is night and day between the old paper notes and the new plastic ones. From a blind person perspective, you couldn’t really tell the difference between an old £10 and a £20,” Ian Morris, a blind supply chain manager, told The Independent. “It’s a fantastic invention; absolutely superb.”

The United Kingdom also has notes, like Australia’s, that are a different sizes based on their values. Canadian dollars are all the same size, but they have Braille dots that make them legible to the fingers. Euros, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, and more combine both approaches. High value euros are even a little thicker than other bills.

The United States remains a laggard in blind-friendly money. A lawsuit filed in 2002 by the American Council of the Blind forced the Treasury’s hand, but tactile bills—hey, what’s the rush—won’t happen before 2020 at the earliest. In the meantime, resourceful blind Americans often employ a folding system—ones are left unfolded, fives are folded in half, tens folded lengthwise, 20s get both folds.

The federal government has also supplied electronic scanners, which read out the value of a bill, to the blind or visually impaired at no cost since 2015, but visitors to the country are on their own. “Euros aren’t too bad but when we find ourselves in the U.S.,” Morris told Huffington Post U.K., “that is an absolute nightmare.”