This week we have connected with the American Council of the Blind, and share part of the history of their progress on getting us accessible bills for our currency. Make sure to tune in next time for the more recent progress on accessible notes.
Dan: Every industrialized country in the world now has accessible currency, and, it, it’s really is our time.
Liz: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. This week’s episode is not only a Penny Forward podcast episode, it is also a collaboration with the American Council of the Blind, and their ACB Advocacy Update podcast. I’m Liz Bottner, …
Swatha: Hello, I’m Swatha Nandhakumar, I am the … specialist at ACB.
Chris: I’m Chris Peterson, …
MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …
Dan: And I’m Dan Spoone, American Council of the Blind interim Executive Director.
Liz: Today, we have brought everyone together to have a conversation related to a topic that impacts every one of us in the blind and low vision community, and that is accessible currency. More specifically, we wanted to talk about the history of advocacy efforts in this area, and we have brought on Dan and Swatha to do just that. Dan and Swatha, thank you for being here.
Swatha: Happy to be here.
Dan: Looking forward to the conversation, Liz.
Liz: Before we get started, tell us first about the American Council of the Blind, and its mission.
Swatha: Well, the American Council of the Blind, ACB, is a membership organization. We are driven– we are national, we are driven by our members, and our mission is to increase the independence, security, equality opportunity, and improve quality of life of all blind, blind people and people with low vision and vision loss. Through advocacy, which is our main advocacy update podcast. My role is to advocate, and … and do all the … Um, Dan, you want to step in here? About your roll at ACB??
Dan: Sure. I’ve had several rolls at ACB. I was uh, a member of our ACB board of directors, and then the ACB President for four years, and currently, I’m serving as our interim executive director, and it’s exciting to have a membership organization with over sixty-five affiliates across the country that are really dedicated to improve the lives of members of our blind and low vision community. And excited today to be here and talk about, uh, our advocacy journey related to accessible currency.
Chris: Let’s dive right into that, shall we? Dan, can you tell us a little bit about the history of the accessible currency movement?
Dan: Yes, Chris, I’d be happy to, and it’s really a, a journey that goes back a little more than half of a century right now if you can believe it. Uh, the American Council of the Blind passed its member driven resolution demanding accessible currency from the US treasury and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1972. Fifty-one years ago. Uh, with subsequent resolutions that took place three or four times, uh, in the early, I mean the late seventies and early eighties, uh, we finally received some traction at that point in time, in the, in the eighties, when the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at least acknowledged our advocacy efforts, uh, which was followed up by conversations that really led to not a very satisfactory outcome, and through a journey of another decade or two, in the early two thousands, 2002, the American Council of the Blind finally filed a class action lawsuit in the district federal court, asking for accessible currency based on the rehab act, and Section 504 of the rehab act. And that case, uh, came to trial in 2006, and ACB won that particular case, which was, our plaintiffs were Otis Stephens, who’s now deceased, he was one of our former presidents of the American Council of the Blind, our executive director at the time, was Charlie Crawford, he’s also deceased at this point in time, it’s been a long journey, and Pat Sheehan, who has uh, been a member of our ACB board of directors, is still, is still with us today. And uh, so it’s been quite a journey, but out of that lawsuit, we did receive injunctive relief that said the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had to make their currency fully accessible for the blind and low vision community. That conversation went on back and forth for several years, and in 2009, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, on behalf of the secretary of the treasury, finally put together what they said would define truly accessible currency, which was a raised tactile feature on all new US currency. Second was an enlarged image so those with low vision could, could see the currency. So raised numerals, and, and high contrast, and then third, they put in place a temporary measure to provide an accessible money reader, an electronic reader, which was distributed by the National library service, for folks to have accessibility why we were waiting on the money. The money was supposed to be delivered, uh, first note, in 2020 for the 10-dollar bill, and then, several years after that, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the US treasury, due to counterfeit concerns, came back and said that new currency was going to be delayed, and that the first new bill would be produced in 2026. Which is where we kind of stand today. So the order is still in place, we receive biannual reports from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on their progress, and it’s, it’s been quite a journey, and uh, we’ll talk a little bit more about it through, throughout the process, but just uh, leave it to be said that it has been a, a truly long and extended effort, but I believe one that we’re getting close to the finish line on.
MOe: Dan, is there a certain event that came up that led to ACB getting involved with this advocacy effort?
Dan: I wouldn’t say necessarily a, a triggering event that I’m aware of. Uh, I will speak, you know, maybe others who, you know, have a longer history than I do. I, I really wasn’t very involved, you know, fifty-one years ago when this all got started. But, in general, I believe what has happened worldwide, is that we’ve seen pretty much every industrialized country in the world move forward with a very good effort at accessible currency for the blind and low vision community. And I believe, in the 80’s, 90’s, when the European Union, the EU, came along, and introduced the Uro which was totally accessible, with tactile features, different sized bills, high contrast, really, you know, kind of setting the benchmark for what accessible currency could look like in the future. I think that really brought the attention to our community that said, “Hey. What’s wrong with the United States? Why are we lagging so far behind? And now, of course, we see pretty much every industrialized country in the world now has accessible currency, and, it, it’s really is our time. So I think it’s just that lack of action, and lack of follow through, that really has, has been the, the overall trigger. “Show us the money. We finally want to see accessible currency in our lifetimes.” And for many of our members, their lifetimes have run out, and we still don’t have accessible currency.
Liz: In terms of the initial individuals who were involved, Otis, Charlie and Pat, was there an initial reason, Dan, that they may have given that spurred individual and even collective action on their parts, to get involved, or was it just, as you previously said, a lack of accessibility, and a need to make it not be that?
Dan: I think so, I think just a building frustration. Right? I mean, one of the most visible things in our society is our currency. You know, you don’t go a day in your life without running in contact with US currency. Right? It, it’s, it’s a part of your life. And, and as, uh, you know, you all know in the Penny Forward movement, having easy access to understand the denominations of your bills is an important part of budgeting your finance and your money. My personal experience, in the early two thousands, my wife and I, Lesly, decided we needed to kind of get control of our financial security and future, and, you know, just per chance, I ran across a gentleman named Dave Ramsey, who had a podcast that talked about, you know, how to build wealth and save money and get out of debt. And one of the primary concepts of at least his methodology was that there’s a psychological connection between actually putting dollar bills out there, or twenty-dollar bills out there, to buy something, as opposed to pulling out your plastic or, or buying something online. That there’s a, a visceral reaction that happens when you’re exchanging money for a financial transaction. So, what he really encouraged was for you to put money in envelopes, and pay for your, your living expenses, many of them, with currency. Well, to do that, you had to have US currency. And you had to be able to understand the difference between a twenty-dollar bill, a fifty-dollar bill, and a one-dollar bill. And that was very hard to do twenty years ago. You know, we’ve made progress with a lot of electronic readers here over the last fifteen years, but it really led to a level of personal frustration for many blind people, you know, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, that said, “Hey! We have a right to be able to understand our money just as easily as a sighted person does.” And so I think it’s that frustration that built, and built, and built to get us to the, place that we are today. It was many individuals just being frustrated.
Chris: You touched on this a little bit, but can you go into a little bit more detail about what some of the challenges were, maybe particularly during the trial, that came up towards getting us accessible currency, or towards winning that case?
Dan: Well, I think the trial actually went very well. I mean it, I think was pretty obvious to the, to the court, and to the judge, that it really was a denial of our rights under section 504 of the rehabilitation act, but I have to really give accolades to Jeff Lovitky, who was a pro bono attorney, that worked, and has worked, with the American Council of the Blind for decades to bring about accessible currency. And I think a lot of what got us there was really his skill, in, in walking us through the process. And he’s still with us today, and attended our last two meetings we had with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in March, and in June, so, that consistent, steady voice has, I think, been very instrumental in getting us to the place that we are today. But I don’t think, the trial wasn’t hard, it’s the, it’s now that next step, of getting through governmental bureaucracy, and getting to implementation. We have the legal right to accessible currency now, but boy, it’s been a challenge to get it through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and actually get it implemented.
MOe: Swatha, what did our original ACB advocacy efforts look like?
Swatha: Yeah. So, I think Dan touched on as well, we did pass a resolution, 1972, on, um, calling on Treasury and BEP to implement accessible currency, and that didn’t really gain traction, so, just passed another one in 77 I believe, and, at some point we kind of realized, “This is not working out. And we need to like, do more. We need to, kind of go for a law suit.” So, again, the building … building frustration that, kind of, “We’re not getting anywhere, we’re not, um, getting currency that we can see, or that we can handle ourselves, so, we need to do something about this.”
Liz: That is all the time we have this week, however, join us in two weeks for a continuation of this conversation, where we find out what the current and future states of advocacy are surrounding accessible currency. But wait. If you are not wanting to wait two weeks, here’s a clip from the upcoming conversation.
MOe: So, Dan, Swatha, how can us as average Americans, or other companies, get ready for our hopeful big move?
Swatha: I think it’s just keeping ACB accountable to our milestones. Like helping out, keep their, keep … the fire, as far as like, … change, it’s not gonna happen for the next, you know, three years, so, I think like, there’s plenty of time for you all to get adjusted to new, to the new move, and um, Dan, you want to add anything else here?
Dan: Yeah, I think, you know, one of the things we’re really working with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is, they have to file a report for the lawsuit every six months. Every March and September. So they’re getting ready to do another filing here this month. And I think it’s important as they make this progress that they truly document their progress. And not say, you know, “Things are moving on as scheduled.” We really, you know, we’re trying to work with their lead council, and their leadership to communicate as much of that progress that’s being made in the official report to the court. Because that puts it in writing. That, you know, it, it, it, it makes it much more concrete, that the bureau has passed this particular, uh, major milestone. So I think, that’s one important thing, that we’ll keep working on them to, to truly document their progress through their reports to the court, and then, secondly, I think as we move through this, we have to, as advocates, continue to work with our representatives, and our senators, to ask them how the progress is coming. You know, we, we are asking the disability coalition, Representative Dingel, to really move forward, and, just, not, not find anything accusatory, but just ask for updates. From, from Congress. How, you know, BEP, how are things moving along? Are you seeing any anomalies? Are we staying on schedule? So I think the more we can keep everybody’s attention focused, and if anything comes up, we know sooner rather than later that they’ve run into an issue, that then we can help advocate around that particular issue. So I think that’s important, and then I think, as we get closer, there’s going to be a really large roll, I think for all of us, to get the word out that this is coming. That there’s going to be a new bill, with a raised tactile feature, that’s totally accessible for our blind and low vision community, and how much it means to us, and how important it is. cause I think getting that public awareness and public pressure on our side, will, will help us get it over the finish line, MOe.
Liz: Dan and Swatha, thank you so much for being here, and sharing with us the advocacy journey around accessible currency, from its beginnings, to its current state, to what is next in this area for the future. I would also be remiss if I did not thank those three individuals without whose work we may not be where we are today. Those being Charlie Crawford, Otis Stephens, and Pat Sheehan. Charlie and Otis, I hope that where we are with advocacy efforts around accessible currency is something that you would be proud of. And Pat, I hope that one day, your initial feeling of frustration, which led you to pursue this advocacy effort in the first place, can turn into a feeling of celebration. I believe that we do have things that we can celebrate today, but we are not where we need to be, and that is definitely evident from our conversation. also, accessible currency, currency in general, is something that affects every single one of us, and to have it be accessible would be better for everyone. To quote what Dan had said earlier, “show us the money!”. Thank you, Everyone.
This is the Penny Forward podcast. It is also this week a collaboration with the American Council of the Blind, and their Advocacy Update podcast. I’m Liz Bottner, …
Swatha: Hello, I’m Swatha Nandhakumar, I am the … specialist at ACB.
Chris: I’m Chris Peterson, …
MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …
Dan: And I’m Dan Spoon, American Council of the Blind interim Executive Director.
Liz: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Chris Peterson and Liz Bottner, with assistance from MOe Carpenter. Audio editing and post production is provided by Brynn Lee at
text transcription is provided by Anne Verduin, and music is both composed and performed by Andre Louis. Penny Forward is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. We have three tiers of membership options. A guest membership, at no cost, a monthly membership, at nine dollars, ninety-nine cents a month, and a yearly membership, at 99 dollars a year. Benefits of Penny Forward membership include: access to our online courses covering a wide variety of financial related topics, early access to the Penny Forward podcast, weekly members only group chats, one on one financial counseling and coaching, and much more. To learn about these and other Penny Forward offerings and services, please visit our web site at
For Penny Forward, I’m Liz Bottner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.