Bureau of Engraving and Printing Begins Distributing Currency Readers

by Melanie Brunson

For some time now, the U.S. government has been talking about its plans to distribute currency reader devices to people who are blind or visually impaired in order to make it possible for them to identify the denomination of U.S. banknotes independently.  Officials have said repeatedly that this is the first phase of their program to provide meaningful access to U.S. paper currency.  It is aimed at providing independent access to the inaccessible banknotes that are currently in circulation, as well as those that will continue to circulate while future banknotes containing a tactile feature are being developed and put into circulation.
I am happy to report that phase is currently under way.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing officially began the first phase of its currency reader distribution program at the summer conventions of the nation’s blindness organizations, including ACB.  I was advised that several hundred units were distributed by Bureau of Engraving and Printing staff in the exhibit hall at the ACB conference and convention in Las Vegas.
If you weren’t at the convention and are interested in getting your hands on one of these scanners, here is what you need to know about this program.
First, yes, the currency readers are being provided at no cost to blind or visually impaired people who are either U.S. citizens, or are legally residing in the U.S. or any of its territories.  Between now and January 2015, only those individuals who are currently eligible to receive braille and talking book services from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) are eligible to receive these currency readers. The program was rolled out during the NFB and ACB conventions, but only those individuals who are current users of the NLS services could apply.  A brief form was completed by each individual requesting the information necessary to verify the person’s eligibility with NLS prior to issuance of the scanner.
Those who did not attend the July conferences may still have the opportunity to receive a scanner.  Other current patrons of a library that is part of the NLS network, as well as users of the BARD download program, can sign up for a free currency reader.  There are several ways to sign up.  If you want to sign up by phone, you can either call your library, or you can call NLS at 1-888-NLS-READ (that’s 1-888-657-7323).  Your request will be noted in your account with NLS, and beginning this month, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will start mailing the units to people at the addresses they have on file with the National Library Service.
Remember that until January 2015, only individuals who are users of the NLS braille and talking book program are eligible.  It is not currently possible to order one on behalf of someone else or for an organization.  Parents or legal guardians of children under age 18 can request them on behalf of the child, but the child must be a current user of the NLS program.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing plans to expand the program beginning in January 2015.  At that time, they will make currency readers available to people who are not part of the NLS program.  In order to receive a free currency reader, one must obtain certification from a medical professional that they are blind or visually impaired.  The form that is required can be downloaded from www.bep.gov. This form can also be used by anyone who might like to sign up for a free currency reader and at the same time, apply to receive access to braille or talking books from NLS.  The form can be downloaded, completed, and mailed to NLS at the address provided on the application.
Please allow six to eight weeks to receive your currency reader, especially if you order it near or after January 2015.
The currency readers that are being distributed by the government will read the denomination of U.S. banknotes only.  Users can have this information spoken out loud or listen to it through earbuds plugged into a jack on the machine.  The machine can also be set to emit vibrations or tones instead of speaking the information out loud.  For those readers who are familiar with the iBill money readers from Orbit Research, this is the unit that is now being distributed by the government.
For those who would like to learn more about what the government is doing to insure that blind and visually impaired people have independent access to the information on U.S. currency, the government will now provide email updates.  Visit the web site of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at www.bep.gov and sign up to receive updates by e-mail.  You can also check this site periodically for updates.  We will keep you posted on further developments as well.