by Lana Ruvolo Grasser

We see them everywhere: social engineering solutions implemented by the government to increase quality and promote a healthy, happy society. Bike paths and sidewalks encourage more active lifestyles while smoking bans in public buildings and seatbelt laws work to modify and prevent poor health behaviors. However, in the United States, accessibility efforts have only gone so far. For example, while our campus here at Michigan State features auditory street crossing alerts along with the traditional stop hand and walking man, I have yet to see this implemented outside of the university setting.

And then there are the everyday commonalities that seem so irrelevant and user friendly. Our bills clearly state their worth on either side and even come with different faces, colors, and national symbols to help us distinguish our currency! So easy, right? I thought so, until my health psychology professor proposed a question: “How does someone with a visual impairment handle money?” Silence.

While coins vary in size in the U.S., all paper money is a standard length and width. Currently, the material our money is printed on would be too thin to uphold traditional braille printing, however many countries have found solutions. Canada, China, and Hong Kong’s banknotes have braille text while other currency makes use of embossing, tactile features, and size.

Hong Kong bill with embossing on either side

In fact, the Bank of England argues that very few people read braille, thus making braille text – which can quickly wear down on money – less suitable; however, much like the Euro, British pounds come in different sizes to help the visually impaired distinguish between currency.

British bank notes vary in size and coloration

While the United States spends ceaseless amounts on minting new 25 cent pieces with various designs and symbols on the back each year, the government argues that changing the size of bills or adding any sort of tactile elements would be much too costly. For now, those with visual impairments must find individualized solutions, including folding different notes into corresponding shapes, or using money holders with braille numbers.

Devices such as this have the ability to stamp money with braille print while others are more protective for storing money in labeled slots. Of course, once must first know which bill they are stamping or storing.

Variant coloring may also help those with limited vision; bright, bold colors similar to those found on the Euro and the Canadian dollar may be helpful.

Dowling Duncan’s American dollar redesign, incorporating multiple accessibility features.

As the media excites over the change of the $10 bill from the portrait of Alexander Hamilton to one of an influential female in American history, it seems like the perfect time to make further changes to the American dollar. Shortening the bill, for example, would actually be a cost effective way to distinguish between bills without ramping up the cost of printing them. If the government can afford to reprint with a new design, surely new colors and sizes can also be modified.

A monetary transaction may be a simple part of your everyday life, but for many it is complex and confusing, especially in a country that places little focus on accessibility. Practices that seem ingrained in stone need not be, and must be adaptable in order to suite the needs of the people they are utilized by. The visually impaired community is ever present in the population, and such a so-called “impairment” need not be thought of as such at all if accessibility practices are adopted and incorporated into all of society.


Sources: MSU PSY 320 and