# How do blind people tell the difference on US Dollar bills?

My brother is going to the US tomorrow and exchanged some money today. When he came home he asked me (the allknowning older brother):

All US bills (at least 1-50) are the same size, how do blind people tell the difference? Swedish bills (and Euros, I seem to remember) are all of different sizes so you can tell what you have by feeling it.

But how do you do it in the US?

In the Leonard Gershe play (and movie) Butterflies Are Free, blind Don Baker explains that he folds them differently in his wallet – ones aren’t folded, fives folded once, tens twice.

“Who carries twenties?” replies Baker. Which shows you how old this play is.
I have no idea how he tells what the bills he receives are. I did once see a TV report about a “reading” device for the blind that basically consisted on a camera, some circuitry, and a speaker. It transformed the value of the reflected light into tones. You could easily identify a five dollar bill by the modulaytion as you ran the device over the columns of the Lincoln Memorial on the back. But I doubt if that device is widely used today.

Canadian bills are the same size but have tactile features (like braille) indented onto one corner of the bill. Seems like that would be a good option for the US too.

One folding scheme I’ve encountered is:

Ones - unfolded
Fives - folded once in the usual way to a nearly square shape
Tens - Folded once lengthwise into a long strip
Twenties - Folded as if a five and a ten so it’s half the height and width.

To start this process, the blind person needs a little help from a bank teller or friend.

For people with “low” vision, the newer bank notes have their value printed in large, plain numbers.

Seems like it would very easy for an individual of a non-moral persuasion to shortchange them when they’re shopping. After all, you’d have no way of knowing what you get in exchange.

American guide dogs can differentiate between different currency denominations and have very sharp teeth.

(;))

So, basically, they’re screwed? Or at least, at the mercy of the goodness of strangers.

Damn, that’s harsh.

Evidently there are bill readers for the blind in use, descendents of the one I mention above, and the Treasury is lookinng into making bills identifiable to the blind:

This has to be one of the greatest reasons for the US dropping the \$1 and \$2 bills and introducing \$1 and \$2 coins that I’ve ever heard.

I would bet that 99 times out of 100, the prevalence of debit-card transactions has mitigated the risk greatly. How this kind of stuff was handled 30-40 years ago, I don’t know.

Or just making them different sizes

Yeah, I bet blind people use cards more than others, but then you’re left with the problem of reading the slip

(yes, for some reason I’m feeling very conspiratorical today)

There are scenes in the Ray Charles bio-pic, Ray, that have him insisting on being paid with singles during his early career. IIRC, he got screwed early on with 1s said to be larger bills.

The newer fives, tens, and twenties also have distinctive colors on the front, which may possibly help those who can see a little, but the colors aren’t very bold or distinct. They haven’t entirely supplanted the old bills yet, and I can’t remember off the top of my head what the colors are. BTW unlike just about every other country on Earth, the government provides information and educational material about the currency through the website of the United States Treasury, rather than through the central bank’s website. By contrast, the website of the Federal Reserve system explains how monetary policy works, but doesn’t tell you about the physical characteristics of the notes they issue.

Getting back to the issues faced by blind people, it is difficult for them and I don’t know why they haven’t been better provided for in this regard. There are only three or four denominations to worry about, though. The twenty dollar bill is the only denomination dispensed by nearly all ATMs, so that denomination is not going away any time soon. Many small business will not handle hundreds and fifties–and people tend to use debit or credit cards anyway, so those denominations are rarely used. That leaves only ones, fives, tens, and twenties. Of those four, the ten is by far the least circulated, and may be in the process of disappearing. Why this is I’m not sure, but it’s no major inconvenience to carry twice the number of fives, and business that hand out change may be favoring fives in their currency orders from banks.

Ray Charles, when he was starting out as a professional musician in the 1940s, used to insist on being paid in singles only, but obviously that’s not practical today.

I’ve thought that for, oh, longer than I’ve been on the SDMB, surely.

The notes may say “Federal Reserve Note” but they don’t actually make the bills. Hell, the Treasury doesn’t even make the bills, it’s the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, while the US Mint makes the coins. Total clusterf*ck.

I saw a thing on 20/20 where they set up a stunt with a blind actor and an actor playing a cashier at a deli. The actor was told to be very rude to the blind person and intentionally short change the blind person. It was amazing how many ordinary citizens actually spoke up for the blind person when they saw them being shortchanged. It gives me hope for the human race (which, IMHO, is pretty much screwed).