On the Record with Susan Dalton

DeKALB – For many, using U.S. currency is easy, an everyday task taken for granted. For people with visual impairments, telling a $5 bill from a $10, or a $20 bill from a $100, can be impossible.

To help people with visual impairments differentiate currency, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing is distributing free electronic bill readers. The readers, called iBill devices, were first released in January 2015. To date, more than 82,000 iBills have been distributed to eligible U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Through the work of Susan Dalton, Northern Illinois University is now a distribution location of the iBill.

Dalton is an adjunct instructor in NIU’s College of Education, in the department of Special and Early Education. She contacted the treasury to request devices to use in one of her classes, which led to an invitation for NIU to become a federal iBill distribution site.

To apply for a free iBill through NIU, complete the online form at https://www.moneyfactory.gov/uscurrencyreaderform.html and then email the PDF to Dalton at sdalton@niu.edu.

Dalton spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about the iBill and how it helps visually impaired people have more independence.

Milton: What is the iBill?

Dalton: The iBill is a small electronic device created by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It is a small device, similar in size to a car remote fob. If you slide a dollar bill into it, it will vocally announce the bill’s denomination or it will beep. You can also set it to a vibrating mode for privacy or to help people who are both deaf and blind. It’s very simple and easy to use.

Milton: How can people apply for and receive an iBill?

Dalton: People can get the iBill directly from the treasury online at www.BEP.gov. NIU is a distributor of the iBill. Anyone in the U.S. that is a legal resident or citizen can apply for an iBill and receive one for free through the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The one-page application is easy to fill out, but it’s needed to certify that the person has a visual impairment.

Milton: Why is the iBill useful?

Dalton: It’s been a problem to have currency in the U.S. that can be used and easily recognized by people with visual impairments. The treasury has tried using Braille, but it doesn’t last. The dots fade away over time and use. Right now, our bills have different colors and large numbers on the back of the bills, but it’s not really enough.

Milton: How do other countries differentiate their bills?

Dalton: In other countries, their treasuries use an engraving process on their coins and bills so that there is a raised line to indicate a certain currency amount. Some also have bills with different sizes, so it makes distinguishing between bills easier.

Milton: How can the iBill help people with visual impairments?

Dalton: It allows them more independence. It’s difficult to have money management and to even complete day-to-day tasks, like shopping, if you are unable to differentiate between different dollar bills. If someone loses their vision later in life, requiring someone else to handle your money is a big adjustment. Being able to handle your own money is really important for independence.

Milton: Why is visual impairment education important?

Dalton: Our population is aging, and many visual impairments are age-related, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Having people knowledgeable and able to help with these issues is very important. Having teachers and professionals well-versed in technology is helpful. NIU has one of the largest vision programs in the country. There are four specializations in the visual disabilities program: a teacher of students with visual impairments, orientation and mobility, visual rehabilitation therapy and assistive technology used by persons with visual impairments.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.