Hey, the iBills Are Coming! But Will You Use Yours?

A $10 bill with a short end pushed into the slot of an iBill ready to read its value.
A $10 bill with a short end pushed into the slot of an iBill ready to read its value.

This is a great step forward. Finally the U.S. government has been made to acknowledge that all its citizens need to identify paper money. But is it worth having another tool in your pocket? There are other ways to identify your money. This week the electronic methods and next week the good old money folding systems and managing your wallet.

The iBill

The iBill is a small black device 3 by 1½ inches. It is arriving in the mail boxes of any legally blind American who has applies for it. It speaks the value of U.S. dollar bills. You can apply for one through your regional NLS (Talking Books) Library. (Call 1-888-657-7323 if the NLS is new to you.) Or fill out an application from the website of the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The iBill works like this: The short side of a bill slides into the slot, and you press a button to the left of the key ring attachment on the top, or its matching button on the bottom to hear the value. There is no earphone jack. If you hold down either button and then tap the other one, you can choose between different modes: vibrate, beep, and 3 choices of volume for the speech. The vibration and beeps use a simple code. Unfortunately the beeps cannot be made louder. The controls are not well defined, and a neat fingered friend could put a pointed dot of Hi-Marks (or another raised paint) onto the buttons, being careful of course not to glue them to the casing.

It is free provided that you qualify. Otherwise the iBill costs from $119 to $139 .

The money reader app

The money reader app on a iPhone or iPod Touch  costs $10 and  works without being connected to the internet. but it takes a little practice to have it read the bill. You have to get the distance right! The quickest way to learn is to open the money reader app and lay your iPod Touch or iPhone camera down atop your currency bill, and then lift it up. The money reader speaks at about 5inches above the bill. The voice is clearer than the iBill and you can control the volume and use an ear bud if you want.

A last word from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP): The iBill is only temporary.

“As an interim measure in advance of issuing tactile enhanced Federal Reserve notes, the BEP is providing currency readers, free of charge, to eligible blind and visually impaired individuals.”

I spoke yesterday to David Kingsbury, one of the testers of the new tactile enhanced currency bills. The bills will not have some version of the braille code on them, because it gets flattened with use. Instead the ink will be thickened so that the numbers can be read by touch! Sounds good, but do not hold your breath – maybe in 2020!

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