General Question

El_Cadejo's avatar

Is there any way for blind people in the US to tell paper money apart?

Asked by El_Cadejo (34570points) April 12th, 2013

I was at the ATM today when I noticed braille all over the keypad. It got me thinking, ok a blind person could use this machine but how would they know they got the right amount of money in return? As far as I can tell all the bills are the same size with no distinctive tangible differences like in some other countries currencies.

I can imagine this would lead to a great deal of problems for blind people. For those that are able to get around on their own I’m sure there are instances where they have to buy things and thus rely on the other individuals honesty to not take advantage of them.

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33 Answers

2davidc8's avatar

All ATM’s around here that I’ve seen only dispense $20 bills.

JLeslie's avatar

In the US there is no way for blind people to know, unless something has changed on our bills recently that I am unaware of. As you point out, other countries have their paper money in various sizes. When I ws young there were discussion of adding additional colors to the money sp they were more difficult to counterfeit, which we finally after years started doing, and to make various sizes. I once was told that blind people keep the money in their wallet in order, so they know ones are at the front and then fives, then tens, etc.

Now, cash barely ever has to be used, so I guess that is less of a problem. When I worked in stores blind people would rely on us to confirm they gave us the right amount of money and that we gave them the correct change. So, some trust was involved. I can’t imagine anyone would try to take advantage of that, I guess there is a small percentage of people who might.

With credit cards they can just ask the cashier to say the amount out loud to confirm they are ok with the price.

2davidc8's avatar

And, yes, they probably have to rely to some extent on the honesty of strangers.
My mom has Alzheimer’s and she has a similar problem. She cannot make change. So, when she goes shopping, she hands over her money to the clerk, who then takes what is needed and makes change for her. A certain level of trust is needed.
We just make sure she does not carry too much money on her.

flo's avatar

@wildpotato I know your link helps them to keep track of their cash, but how do they tell if they are not being shortchanged by other people?

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

Actually my husband was blind after his accident. One can just imagine all the apps and we had this electronic device for the blind that was a nifty money reader

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

These Apps for high end devices and specialized and no doubt expensive gadgets probably work perfectly on the typically income of people with sensory deficits. We all know how generous most employers and group insurance companies are and how those with special needs are guaranteed access by Law to such devices. Right?

Oh, I forgot we were referring to the USA where only the very rich and powerful get not only what they need but everything available their little hearts desire. There is no Universal access to health care and unless some private charity helps out, most people with special needs go without. Capitalism takes care of **money** and those who control it. Democracy and equal rights is too socialist to be permitted! Quaint old fashioned ideas that were crushed under the boot heel of “Capitalism and Profit at any cost.”

livelaughlove21's avatar

No, they can’t tell paper money apart. However, ATMs only give out 20’s.

I don’t know why ATMs have Braille. A blind person can’t see the prompts on the screen. Unless they are familiar with the order of prompts on that machine, how would they know when to enter their pin? Then again, if someone was with them (which I’d assume would be the case if they’re blind, but not necessarily), they could read the prompts and the blind person could punch in their own pin. Even drive-thru ATMs have Braille, though.

My husband is slowly losing his vision, and it’s quite overwhelming to think of the everyday things we take for granted that would be difficult, if not impossible, for blind people to do.

flo's avatar

It is the right of every person including poor and homeless people to know they are not being shortchanged without spending any money, so I agree with @Dr_Lawrence.

@livelaughlove21 I have never seen a blind person using an ATM but maybe they have some earphone thing we don’t know about, I don’t know.

bkcunningham's avatar

This is very educational.

ETpro's avatar

Fascinating question, made all the more difficult by the fact that I ran into one oddball ATM at a bank no less that gives the first part of its bounty in $20s and then the rest in $10s. I guess a blind person using that machine would think for a time they had hit the jackpot.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@flo yw. :) it is difficult to be a blind person but I actually have two different perspectives on this. I have a very good friend that I have known since I was a teen who is blind since birth and watching him get around he adapts quite well. And then my husband who had 20/20 vision but lost it from an accident and he struggled afterwards which also affected his recovery from the accident but he struggled with vision loss. Imagine going to bed with 20/20 vision and waking up waking up with the sense that you have no eyes that is the trauma my husband went through. How well you adapt depends on the individual situation.

Of course I live in Canada and we have a place where blind people go where they can be coached and then have access to many different sources and this CNIB becomes rehabilitation and support for the blind person if they choose, I don’t know if there is anything like that in the states.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I wonder why they have braille on the ATM’s on the driver’s side.

glacial's avatar

Canadian bills do have a tactile feature so that blind people can tell the bills apart. It’s not Braille, for practical reasons. I find it weird that the US would not have something like this in place. I can’t imagine it would be difficult.

bkcunningham's avatar

What are the Canadian Journey Series and Frontier series of bank notes, @glacial? Your link said those are the bank notes that contain the tactile feature. Does that mean not all the currency in Canada has the feature?

glacial's avatar

@bkcunningham They are the last couple of designs of paper money that have been issued. I actually had no idea what their names were until you mentioned them! At the moment, I would guess that most of the paper money in circulation is still Canadian Journey Series, though banks are only giving out Frontier now. I assume the older designs are being retired from circulation slowly.

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tallin32's avatar

Hi gang.

First, a bit of a backgrounder: I’m a blind software engineer for the Seattle office of a multinational software company headquartered in Massachusetts. And a disclaimer: No answer I give here should indicate in any way that I am offended by any statement previously made here. I have, however, seen some of the misconceptions put forth here cause difficulties, both for myself and others, and have developed some… loud… opinions. And now that that’s out of the way, some answers—

@2davidc8 I actually use the apps previously mentioned here. Whilst I’m sure that some blind people must rely on the honesty of strangers, this isn’t the case across the board. Your comparison with Alzheimer’s is inaccurate, in that it could be read as assuming that a blind person only travels accompanied.

@wildpotato: I actually don’t fold bills. It makes my wallet all lumpy. Having said that, I know a number of people that do. Sorry—“for all” statements make me twitchy.

@Dr_Lawrence: Actually, with the iPhone having stellar accessibility out of the box (how blind people access touch screens is beyond the scope of this reply, but those interested can google ‘iPhone VoiceOver’ and learn for yourselves), a lot of the specialized devices have become reasonably inexpensive software applications (the money identifier app previously mentioned ran me $1.99, and an app that reads printed things for me on the fly ran me $9.99 (as opposed to $99 and $995, respectively)). State agencies do cover the cost of higher-end items, if such items will be used to further education or employment goals. And yes, people with sensory deficits can actually have an income that isn’t welfare.

@livelaughlove21: ... So much to answer here, which is odd, because your post was only three paragraphs.
First: Actually, the ATM nearest my apartment allows withdrawals of any multiple of $5. Of course, you can employ some logic here (if you withdraw $135, for example, and you get eight bills back, two of them are likely a $10 and a $5).
Many ATMs now have an alternative audio interface delivered through a standard headset jack, so memorizing the prompts isn’t necessary. Further, assuming that a blind person is required to have someone with them at all times is a very dangerous and, from my side of the desk, particularly annoying assumption.
As for drive-up ATMs, if I’m taking a taxi or a town car to the airport, as I’m likely to do on Friday morning to, say, catch my 6:00 AM flight to Dusseldorf, I am in no way going to want to hand my ATM card to the driver (who won’t have my card number, as I will be paying through an iPhone app), have them enter my PIN (thus losing the benefit of two-factor authentication), have them withdraw money for me, and hope that they give me all the money I have coming.
As for thinking of the things that are impossible to do without sight: Let me help you with that: “drive.” Seriously, though, that’s a dangerous line of thought, particularly when a loved one is involved. Possibly the worst mistake you can make there is to ask yourself what you do with sight, then extrapolate from that. I’d be happy to answer your questions as pertains how things can be done without sight, as well as point you at some resources.

@nofurbelowsbatgirl: I lived in Canada for 10 years. It’s been my experience that the CNIB (or its presence, anyway) hurts more than it helps. I’ve had blind friends that have found it difficult to get entry level work because it’s assumed that the CNIB will provide. I’ve had people not able to get their taxes done because it was assumed that the CNIB would provide. If I were to be transferred to our Montreal office and relied on the CNIB to teach me the route to the office (I never really understood why there are blind people that settle for only knowing familiar routes, anyway), I would apparently be waiting weeks, if not months. Similarly, if I needed them to label appliances for me, it would be a several months’ wait (a fellow can only eat so many frozen dinners). ... Has your experience been different? I ask because we’re getting a number of test engineers in Montreal, and since I own that branch of software development for the project I’m on, the possibility of transferring to Montreal is actually quite real.

@Dutchess_III: ... Oh. Right. I covered why blind people would need access to drive-up ATMs even though they don’t drive (they do, however, withdraw money).

@glacial: The only issue I have with tactile features of Canadian currency is that, unless you know the pattern, it’s completely meaningless. Contrast with the Euro, where the size of the bill goes up with its denomination. Couple that with a two dollar money reading app, and the problem is essentially solved.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, thank you @tallin32! You know, we tend to perceive things from our own narrow point of view. Using a taxi makes perfect sense. But….I’m from a small town. We don’t have a taxi, we don’t have a bus (except school busses) The only subway we have is on the corner and it sells sandwiches.
I’ve only used a taxi once, ever, and that was in KC, Kansas last year. It was such a unique experience that I took a picture of the cab driver! (Well, the REASON we took a taxi is ‘cause we’d had too much to drink. I probably wouldn’t have taken a picture of the driver other wise. :) Actually…he and my husband sat in the parking lot of the hotel for 10 minutes talking about the Chiefs. I hoped my flash might interrupt them….)

livelaughlove21's avatar

@tallin32 “Further, assuming that a blind person is required to have someone with them at all times is a very dangerous and, from my side of the desk, particularly annoying assumption.”

…which is why I said “not necessarily.” And I never said they required or needed someone else.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@tallin32 Thank you for teaching us and pointing out our misconceptions.
I appreciate the education you provided us.

glacial's avatar

@tallin32 Thank you for weighing in from the perspective of experience!

You raise a good point about learning the system, but I assume that it’s primarily used by Canadians, so this would only be an issue for travellers. I assume that as a blind person, you must take the time before travelling to find out what kind of features the local currency has for the blind.

As to the Euro bill sizes, do the increasing sizes help you to identify denomination if you only have bills of one denomination in hand, or do you need several to compare? I’m not familiar with how recognizably different the sizes are.

I suppose if you have a money reading app, both of these points are moot, but my curiosity is piqued. :)

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@tallin32 Actually you are on the money. Although I do not go to the CNIB anymore since my husband has passed away, but when we were there they did not do much. His experience in the beginning of losing his sight with CNIB was not great and he drifted from them and I basically became his eyes. That is why in my previous statement I said  CNIB becomes rehabilitation and support for the blind person if they choose.
So I completley agree with you.

You could be like my husband and actually have the visits and be shown the routes and have the person who is teaching you the stuff just let you fall onto a busy street because of the curb and stand idly back because well that’s “teaching you a real life scenario”.

I agree, it hurts more than helps. But I do know my friend who has been blind from birth has no issues with CNIB. But he has also not really needed therapy since he has never had sight but he still goes to the local facility at times.

Dutchess_III's avatar

This is one of the most amazing posts I’ve ever read…

tallin32's avatar

@Glacial: Actually, I tend to fall back on the money reading app (at least where it would involve the Canadian dollar, U.S. dollar, Euro or British pound). I… am trying to remember what I did when I went to India, but I think it involved having the money exchanger at Wells Fargo give me various denominations of rupee notes and I stacked them in order of size. As far as being able to tell if I have a lot of one denomination, I expect I would probably use an app or something initially, until I became familiar enough with the sizes of each note to make a distinction. Having not been in Europe for more than a couple of weeks at a time, though, this would be speculation on my part.

tallin32's avatar

@livelaughlove21: Mea culpa. Mea maxima, maxima culpa—I suppose you did, at that, retract your prior statement that blind people probably have someone with them (although, it occurs to me, having someone with them doesn’t necessarily equal using them as a pair of eyes (not that I am in any way meaning to assume this is what you’re saying—this is an entirely different tangent)). Permit me a case in point. My wife and I were attending a convention on technology and people with disabilities (we have a nonverbal autistic child, and were looking at augmented communications devices). Coming back through San Diego airport, the… I think it was the Delta representative? Might have been someone from the airport. Anyway, he had asked my wife if she was comfortable guiding me (a more suitable way of doing this would be to ask me if I needed help, as I could probably find all sort of people that might think they know how to guide, but that I wouldn’t trust to babysit a rock). Taking some objection to where the question was directed, but wanting mainly just to give us some time to escape the situation, I informed the gentleman that really I was only comfortable with her guiding me when she was on top. ... It gave us the half minute we needed to remove ourselves from the situation.

tallin32's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl: ... Wait. He fell? I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with balance that can be connected with blindness (although ear infections are murder).

I sort of went the other direction—when I learned the basic rules of how to read traffic by sound, how to orient yourself on a mental map (I played a lot of text adventures as a kid.), that sort of thing, I stopped with the lessons. By and large, an intersection is an intersection is an intersection, and if you can parse the traffic sounds, it can be Broadway in Seattle, Boylston Avenue in Boston, or Kackertstrasse in Aachen. Having said that, I can’t stress enough that what works for me may not work for the next guy—in the same way that, though not all blind people can be lawyers, blindness doesn’t preclude practicing law.
... This went a bit far afield.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@tallin32 Well no, he didnt just fall. He was just newly blind and walked to close to the curb because he had no direction from the trainer and he wasn’t scanning with his stick properly.

tallin32's avatar

Waitasec. His trainer just sort of left him adrift, newly blind, probably still frightened of the transition, without any guidance? This was bananas. Completely preventable bananas.

wildpotato's avatar

@tallin32 I tend to think that to assign “they” as a ∀(x) statement is to give too much strength to the word, and that this is why we generally use the constructions “they all” (or “all y’all”) when we want to indicate that we specifically intend the “for all”. I did not mean for my remark to be read in that way, though I do see how it can be. To me, the notion that all blind folks use the same tricks to get along in the world is ridiculous, so I didn’t think to guard against that possible interpretation in my response. But then I’ve never been in a situation where I would have encountered such ignorance from others, and I can definitely see how someone who might very well have had many such encounters would be on the lookout for potential “for all“s, especially in a discussion like this one. Thanks for the heads-up :)

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