Recognising money if you have a visual impairment

Being able to independently recognise money is crucial to independence. It enables visually impaired people to shop independently, securely and efficiently.
While many businesses take alternative payment methods such as debit card, and even bank transfer in certain situations, some businesses still prefer cash and this is when being able to successfully recognise money is essential.

Introduction

Since February 2020, the £5, £10 and £20 polymer banknotes have been in circulation, with the £10 and £20 banknotes featuring tactile features to denote their denomination.

The £5 polymer banknote was issued in September 2016, the £10 polymer banknote was issued in September 2017, and the £20 polymer banknote was issued in February 2020. A polymer £50 is expected to be issued in 2021 – we will update this blog when we have more details!

Prior to 2016, paper banknotes were in circulation and did not feature any tactile features to indicate their denomination.

In this blog, we outline how the design features of the new polymer banknotes enhance a visually impaired person’s ability to independently identify them, as well as techniques that people resorted to when handling paper banknotes. We want to highlight how the changes have enhanced the efficiency for visually impaired people when recognising money.

Mark and Alice facing the camera, with money visible on the table

Paper Banknotes

Prior to 2016, all banknotes in circulation were made from paper. These were different in size, but there were no obvious means to determine which note was which.

This could prove challenging for some visually impaired people, and specialised techniques were mostly needed to identify and manage cash. These included:

  • Apps: There are various apps that can identify banknotes, including Cash Reader and Seeing AI. It is still possible to use Cash Reader now, even to identify polymer banknotes. This could be helpful if you are unfamiliar with UK currency and need to familiarise yourself with it, for example if you visit the UK from abroad. Unfortunately, Seeing AI has not been updated to recognise polymer banknotes.
  • Products: You could purchase products such as a device which would vibrate to give an indication of the denomination of a banknote.
  • Carrying a single denomination: A low-tech solution was to only carry a single denomination. This would guarantee that you always knew how much you were paying at a check-out in a shop.
  • Multi-compartment wallets/purses: Another solution was to carry a purse or wallet with multiple compartments so that you could store each denomination in a different section of your wallet. However, this involved being organised and preparing before you went out.
Cash Reader app identifying £5 note

Polymer Banknotes

As of 20th February 2020, polymer £5, £10 and £20 banknotes have been in circulation, with a polymer £50 banknote expected in 2021.

Like the paper banknotes, they are different sizes. However, the polymer banknotes have an additional tactile feature so that visually impaired people can distinguish between the different notes without any aids or support, and without the need to be organised before going out:

  • £5: The £5 note does not have any tactile feature. However, it is the only polymer banknote in circulation that does not have any tactile feature, so the absence of the tactile feature indicates its £5 denomination.
  • £10: The £10 polymer banknote features two clusters of raised dots.
  • £20: The £20 polymer banknote features three clusters of raised dots.

The clusters of raised dots are square-shaped, with four dots in each square. For those who are familiar with Braille, the dots form the same shape as a braille letter g.

The Bank of England acknowledges that the purpose of the tactile feature is to help visually impaired people identify each banknote, highlighting that they were considered throughout the design process.

The new banknote design allows visually impaired people to manage cash more efficiently and spontaneously. It is a great example of how such a vital product can go from being partially accessible to very accessible through a simple design tweak.

Alice identifying a £10 note using the tactile feature

Find Out More

If you would like to find out more about money recognition, you can watch our video in which Mark and Alice discuss how to recognise banknotes, both tactually and using technology. Alice also gives a quick overview of techniques for coin recognition.

We hope you have found our blog and video useful.

If you live in Greater Manchester and would like to find out more about money management, particularly using technology to manage your money, you can contact our Digital Enablement Team by ringing us on 0300 222 5555 or emailing info@henshaws.org.uk.

You can also access our Knowledge Village, where we have more money management content, including videos about Apple Pay and Pingit.

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Alice
Alice
Alice is the Digital Communications Officer and is responsible for producing blogs and EBooks for Henshaws Knowledge Village.