New currency notes a problem for people with vision disabilities in India

Asia-Pacific, January 2 2017

BANGALORE: Demonetisation has created a new demon for people who are blind or have low vision, who are struggling to identify the new notes on the basis of length and width.

Rs 2000 noteFor the sighted among us, the inconveniences of demonetisation have been limited to serpentine queues at banks and ATMs, quarrels over change and the need to grapple with changing rules every day. For people with vision disabilities, however, the move has further complicated the exercise of identifying the currency notes they receive and transact with on a daily basis. While they usually identify notes on the basis of length, width and tactile markings on the side – an exercise perfected over months of practice and familiarity – the introduction of the new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 note has meant that those tactics are no longer foolproof. This, because both new notes are similar in width to the Rs 20 note and Rs 10 note, respectively, they tell us.

Faizal KA, Operations manager at Dialogue in the Dark, an experiential zone and restaurant in Whitefield that aims to sensitise people to the challenges faced by people with disabilities, says adjusting to the new currency has been a challenge, even two months into the move. To circumvent the problem, Faizal has been relying on apps such as KNFB Reader and Blind-Droid, which help him identify the currency he is receiving. However, not everyone is that techsavvy. His colleague, Zabeth, a guide at Dialogue in the Dark, is finding it a challenge to not be duped into getting a lower denomination currency note in place of the Rs 2,000 note, “especially if it has been folded and stored in the wallet”, he says. Until now, he was identifying currency by feeling for the length, width and tactile markings. After the demonetisation – since he doesn’t use apps – he has been trying to avoid transacting in large denominations. “And if I do have large denominations, I go around asking people for change, especially in 100s. I can identify those,” he says. And wherever possible, he uses his cards to make payments, to try and avoid using currency altogether.

Like him, guide Janki R has been finding it hard to distinguish between the length of the Rs 2,000 note and the old Rs 500 note, and the width of the Rs 2,000 note and the Rs 20 note. Janki doesn’t use apps either. Her method of choice has been to keep a Rs 20 note handy in her pocket, and measure any notes she receives against those. She also uses a ruler and measuring tape at times, to ensure she is getting the right currency.

For Madhu Singhal, Managing Trustee of Mitrajyoti, a trust that works for people with disabilities in general and vision disability in particular, identifying notes has always been a problem, one that has been compounded by demonetisation. “The raised ink markings disappear and become difficult to recognise after the note changes hands multiple times – they’re useful only when the note is fresh,” she says. In such a case, it’s length and width that, once again, becomes the distinguishing factor, one that is not that simple any more. Singhal’s solution has been to carefully segregate the notes in her possession, compartmentalising them and arranging them in an order she remembers.Apps, she says, don’t help much because most of them are paid.

Her solution is also the one followed by Gautam Agarwal, President of National Federation of Blind, Karnataka Chapter. In addition to limiting his handling of cash, he too makes sure to keep the notes compartmentalised in his wallet and pocket. “And since the new Rs 2,000 note is fresh, it feels stiffer and different, which helps,” he says. Going cashless is not an option for scores of people with vision disabilities, he believes, simply because achieving uniformity of signatures is difficult for them, which makes opening bank accounts difficult.

There are others, however, for whom the introduction of new notes has made life a little easier. Vidya HR, a person with vision disability who NGO called Enable India says since “the new notes are crisper and the texture is completely different from the old notes”, she hasn’t had much of a problem. Not so with Aditya Garg, another visually impaired person, however. “Going only by the width, one can get confused between the old Rs 20 notes and the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes,” he says. Garg is using a free iOS app called TapTapSee that is designed for object recognition to help recognise currency notes. But that comes with limitations too. “These apps can be used only when you have a few notes in your hand. It’s not applicable if you have a hundred notes with you,” he says. Clearly, this is another section that’s bearing the brunt of the move.

Source: Times of India

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