Making Currency Accessible to the Blind

By Payal Jethra

A ten year old shares with his visually impaired mother, his ideas on how to make Indian currency accessible to persons with blindness.

“That was a 200 not 20 rupee note we handed to the man at the provisional store,” says the ten year old.” As he sat sipping chocolate milk after their return from the grocery store that Saturday evening. “Are you sure about that, Sweetheart?” inquired his mother, “There were two two-hundred rupee notes in my wallet this morning, I am positive. At the grocery store I swiped my debit card and I’m always aware of bank notes that I carry along, at least I have been pretty sure of myself up until these newly introduced notes have made cash transactions perplexing for me.” said Payal as she picked up her coffee to join her ten year old for an evening snack by the window. The duo had shopped for groceries and stopped at a provisional store outside the store to pick up a 10 rupee dairy milk chocolate for each one of them. That would have amounted to 20 rupees, but Payal ended up paying 200.

“Yes, I am pretty sure, Mom. I remember now that you mention it and I feel like I ought have been around you while you settled the amount with him for I just remember glancing at the note as I stepped out of the shop to peep into some comic books at the neighbouring store. Mom, this makes me feel aweful. We never had this challenge earlier. I’ve always watched you handle cash comfortably.” He moved closer to give her a hug, his eyes moist with tears.
“Mom, I want you to have 100% eye sight. Either that or I wish to do something about the sizes of the newly introduced currency notes.”

Payal works with a reputed public sector bank in Mumbai. Her son Nihaar has grown up “money smart” because of his visits to his mother’s place of work which happens to be a bank branch where he has had a good look at cheque deposit machines, cash recycle & ATM machines and had some fun counting bundles of notes after banking hours.

He has watched his mother plan their finances, budget and spending plans for the month, grocery shopping and clothes and accessories. Paying bills, school fees, quarterly society maintenance have been transactions she carries out via accessible internet banking sites. Digital currency still remains inaccessible though the blind can use computers and apps using assistive technology.

Nihaar’s mother  has always been “money wise” carefully keeping a count of denominations in her wallet; five hundreds, hundreds, fifties, twenties and tens, with coins of different denominations in a separate coin pouch in a systematic manner which allows her to independently handle cash by comparing and measuring sizes of
denomination of bank notes. She feels having to ask for assistance is embarrassing and defines her by her disability. It’s nowhere near as easily accessible as it is for a sighted person to differentiate between banknotes. With the introduction of the new currency notes, the blind face some genuine inconveniences in identifying various currency notes in circulation including the newly introduced ones.

Nihaar has been observing how his Mom feels the size, both length and width to identify and count notes. However, the width of all the new notes is the same (66 MM) which compels her to identify the notes only
based upon length.

Coins too have been inaccessible for the blind for a while now. The length of the newly introduced bank notes has been reduced drastically making it extremely difficult for her to perceive. Variation of minimum 10 MM in length and in width between each of the notes is essential for the blind to be able to differentiate and identify.

The variation in width between the Rs. 200 note and the Rs. 20 note is just 1 MM and length just 3 MM.
The bleed lines on all the relevant notes are too light to feel and are of no help in identifying the notes. An average blind person cannot feel the bleed lines readily and they get blurred with repeated use. Relying on only the bleed lines is also not a practical solution to count bundles of notes as the blind person has to feel every note in the bundle. Coexistence of old and new currencies makes it very confusing and complex to count.

“Mom, I wish to understand who designs and makes new currency notes in our country?” The little boy is eager to want his mother and the blind community handle coins and bank notes with identifiable features.

“The Reserve Bank of India and Finance Ministry make decisions on the introduction and designing of currency in India, Beta.” informs his mother.

“Maybe I could share ideas on how this issue of sizes can be fixed. I’ve been good in the Maths lesson on Measurement. Can ATM machines be recaliberated to accept currency notes with variying thickness for
different denominations, Mom, can notes of differing thickness be a way for the blind to differentiate various denominations?” inquires the eager ten-year old as mother and son discuss dimentions of the new 100 rupee note which is going to make life more challenging for Payal, Nihaar’s mother who is legally blind. Children have creative imaginations, don’t they? Their minds can think beyond possibilities and create wonderful worlds.

“Mom,  in earlier times, size of all the notes was sufficiently different so that you  and other people did not face significant challenge in identifying various notes and you  could conduct transactions with ease and independently.”

The little boy aims to become a Mathematician when he grows up. He has been brought up by a single parent, his mother and has been blooming into a fine young man. Amongst the top ranking and outgoing participative children in class, Nihaar shares his mother’s optimistic view of life and the ability to take challenging situations in his stride. Watching her puzzled with a set of bank notes unable to tell one from the other at this point is unacceptable to him. A volunteer at events and informative sessions for the blind in which his mother is often
involved, this young man is out to come up with solutions which can make the blind finantially independent.

Payal’s scenario is becoming a day-to-day challenge for over 50 lakh blind people inIndia. Wouldn’t you wish to join Nihaar as he supports accessible Indian currency campaign by signing this petition?

This article first appeared here,