Due to a lack of tactile features on US currency, difficulty in accurately identifying bills has been, and remains, an issue for Americans who are blind or visually impaired. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) will make changes to US currency as a part of the Meaningful Access initiative. The methods, approved in May 2011, will include raised tactile features to identify each denomination by touch, high contrast numbers, and different colors. These new features will be presented in the next currency redesign, a target date for which is still being determined.
Until the enhanced currency becomes available, currency identifiers are being distributed at no cost to eligible blind and visually impaired people by the BEP. Fill out the application on the BEP website to apply for the iBill currency identifier. The iBill identifies all current US dollar bills—$1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100—using speech, vibration, and tone patterns. For added convenience and portability, it's small enough to fit on a key ring.
The iBill Currency Identifier
The iBill is a small black device that can easily fit on a keychain. It measures 3 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by .75 inch thick. On the front of the device is a raised tab where a bill can be inserted. There are also two buttons, one on the top and one on the bottom of the device, each marked by a raised box surrounding the button and vertical bar on the top of the button. These buttons are used to activate the device. A key ring is located on the back bottom edge.
Inside the package are two sets of instructions: one is printed in 16-point font and the other is embossed in braille. An audio instruction manual is available on the Orbit Research website.
How the iBill Works
To identify a bill, hold the iBill with the key ring towards the bottom. Then, insert a bill horizontally under the raised tab and press either of the two buttons. Depending on mode, the currency amount will be spoken in a female voice or identified with vibration pulses or audible beeps. Headphones can be plugged into a 2.5mm. jack located on the right bottom edge of the device. Take note, this headphone jack is smaller than the jacks most commonly found on smartphones.
The iBill has three output modes: vibration, tone, and speech. In each mode there is a corresponding vibration, beep, and speech indicator. They are as follows:
Vibration Mode indicator
Tone Mode indicator
1 short pulse
1 low-pitch beep
2 shorts pulses
2 low-pitch beeps
3 short pulses
3 low-pitch beeps
1 long pulse
1 high-pitch beep
2 long pulses
2 high-pitch beeps
3 long pulses
3 high-pitch beeps
4 pulses in short-long-short-long
4 beeps in low-high-low-high pitch
Error: three beeps of different pitch or a very long pulse
To switch modes, press and hold either of the buttons, while continuing to hold, press the second button. The iBill will cycle through each mode in order: vibration, tone, speech volume 1, speech volume 2, and speech volume 3. When cycling through modes there is a signal to alert the user to which mode they are in.
The iBill uses one (1) AAA alkaline battery. The battery compartment is located on the bottom of the device and can be identified by two raised ridges. To insert the battery, remove the compartment lid by pressing down and pulling gently forward. When the battery is low, two short beeps or three very short vibration pulses will follow each denomination announcement.
For additional information about the iBill, please read Deborah Kendrick's December 2012 article, The iBill Second-Generation US Currency Identifier from Orbit Research: A Good Thing Made Better.
Currency Identification Mobile Apps
In addition to this standalone device, advances in technology have made it possible to determine a note's denomination by using mobile devices. The BEP has contributed to the development of two such applications:
EyeNote is a free mobile device application developed by the BEP to assist blind or visually impaired consumers to identify currency. EyeNote uses image recognition technology and the mobile device's integrated camera to recognize a bill and indicate the bill's denomination. Eyenote is built on the Apple iOS platform and is available to download from the Apple App Store.
In 2013, the BEP updated the EyeNote app, originally released in 2010. EyeNote 2.0 also utilizes VoiceOver for vocal and gesture feedback if it is turned on for the target iOS device.
The BEP, in collaboration with the Department of Education, also assisted in the development of the IDEAL Currency Identifier, another free downloadable app that operates on the Android platform. It uses text-to-speech voice and advanced image recognition technology to read a note and provide users with an audible response indicating the bill's denomination. IDEAL works locally on the device and does not rely on connection to the Internet.
An updated version of the App was released in 2014. The new version identifies notes more quickly and recognizes the redesigned $100 bill.
These two apps, as well as many other apps now on the market, provide additional options for the public, who is increasingly using mobile devices, to independently identify currency.
We realize there are people who are blind or visually impaired who do not use smartphones or do not want to use smartphones to identify currency. This is why we want to make sure our readers are aware of the option of a free stand-alone currency identifier. The iBill is an effective device that solves a challenge for visually impaired individuals. It gives people who are blind or visually impaired the option to be confident in knowing what's in their wallet and the ability to count money accurately and independently. The various output modes give privacy without limiting the effectiveness of the device. Features of the iBill make it convenient to carry and use. This device is useful now and will continue to be during the transition period while nontactile and tactile bills are both in circulation.
Make sure to take the opportunity to apply for a free money identifier. Please remember the iBill Currency Identifier and currency identification apps do not distinguish between legitimate and counterfeit currency.
For specific questions or comments about the US Currency Reader Program you may call 844-815-9388 toll-free or e-mail.
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