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Robbing them blind? - Visually impaired find it hard to distinguish worn banknotes, call on J’cans to take better care with notes

Published:Wednesday | September 25, 2019 | 12:00 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Thirty-seven-year-old Damion Rose tries to figure out what denomination this note is.
Conrad Harris, president of the Jamaica Society for the Blind.

It’s largely a guessing game when the more than 25,000 blind Jamaicans pick up a local bank note.

While there are distinguishing marks at the edge of each banknote which can be felt to reveal what denomination it is, several bills in circulation are so badly worn that members of the blind community are finding it hard to decipher the value.

On Monday, The Gleaner presented a number of fairly new and some worn $50, $100, $500 and $1,000 banknotes to six blind people to see if they could identify each.

Thirty-seven-year-old Damion Rose was only able to identify the $500 note.

“I’m not feeling it,” Rose said as he used his fingers to search for the raised ink marks when handed a $1,000 bill.

He did not fare any better with the $100 note, and after a minute, he said, “You see this now, it’s crushed too bad. Everywhere has the same crushed feel, so you’re not gonna recognise it.”

The easiest bill to identify, Rose revealed, is the $5,000.

“For the $5,000, we don’t have to feel a line or anything because there’s a thick piece of plastic in the middle, so we are able to identify it differently,” he explained.

Rose said he has tried using a mobile application for the blind and visually impaired, which scans the banknote and then reveals the denomination aloud.

“It takes sometimes up to three or four different tries before it actually recognises it. Plus, you have to have Wi-Fi or data in order to use this app,” Rose said.

Ricky became blind a few years ago after suffering from glaucoma. Since then, he has depended on his niece help him sort his cash.

“I put them [in my] left pocket, right pocket, back pocket, bag, and I don’t keep the silver (coins) at all. The $5,000 have a little plastic in it and it feels so different than the other money. That’s the only one I know. When somebody gives me that, I know what I‘m getting,” Ricky said.

When tested, he only correctly identified the $1,000 note, but admitted it was not based on anything he felt – just a guess.

The other four blind people quizzed by The Gleaner did not identify any of the four denominations correctly.



... Bank cards an alternative

The presence of large numerals on the $5,000 and $1,000 notes aids persons who are legally blind. This was confirmed through testing with a visually impaired member of staff at the Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB).

President of the Society, Conrad Harris, said it is difficult for the blind community to use money.

“The currency used to be different sizes, so we used to be able to know [the value] by the sizes. Then they unified, made them one size. Prior to that, we did have some discussions with them about the fact that they were going to make it one size – to get them to put some markings on it. They did bring it to the JSB, and we did look at it and we did say that we could hardly feel it now, so once it was in use, we wouldn’t be able to feel it,” Harris said.

He said some blind people also use bank cards to avoid the note guessing game as they are able to check the amounts deducted from their accounts online. If there are discrepancies, they are usually resolved when they return to the vendor. However, bank cards are not accepted at all the places they wish to conduct business.

“It’s something that is never far from our minds. It is something that disenfranchises persons who are blind. It means that you have to depend on a trusted person to actually go through your money and help you to identify it,” Harris told The Gleaner.



... Close your eyes, take the test

Referring to the two vertical lines on the right side of the $100 note, which are printed in tactile (raised), Harris issued a challenge to Jamaicans.

“Close your eyes and see if you can find them, especially in a currency note that is not very new. If you can’t find them, it means that other persons who have a vision challenge are not likely to be able to find them,” he said.

Natalie Haynes, deputy governor of Banking and Currency Operations and Financial Markets Infrastructure Division at the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), said they have not done any recent survey among the blind community to determine how easily they are able to decipher the notes using the printed features.

“It is easier to feel the tactile images, that is, raised ink features on newer and well-kept banknotes. In that regard, Bank of Jamaica, in its ongoing public-education campaign, encourages users of banknotes to handle them with due care,” Haynes told The Gleaner. “Of note, the bank maintains a clean note policy to ensure that the quality of notes in circulation is at an acceptable level, so that features for the visually impaired remain effective.”

JSB President Harris suggested that the tactile markings be done in the form of dots on the banknotes. He said the Australian and Eastern Caribbean banknotes have a similar feature and the BOJ could use them as guidelines.

However, Haynes explained that those banknotes were made from a different material from the Jamaican ones.

“Bank of Jamaica is constantly reviewing the design of its banknotes to ensure that they meet the needs of all sectors of the Jamaican public. In that regard, the bank will continue to conduct research and upgrade the features of the banknotes as required to achieve this objective,” Haynes said.

Meanwhile, Rose is also urging Jamaicans to exercise care in their use of the notes.

“Try to preserve the quality of our money, in terms of making it accessible to blind persons. Try not to get it crushed,” he said.