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RBI invites tenders for tech solutions to make currency accessible

The Reserve Bank of India has been facing criticism from disability rights activists and people with visual impairments regarding the inaccessibility of new currency notes. Petitions have been filed and the bank is under pressure to make the required changes .

Considering the fact that India has the largest population of people with visual impairments, around 80 lakh people, the inaccessibility of currency is not a small problem.

People with visual impairments use their hands to touch, feel the notes and the marks, lengths and width of the currency helps them in differentiating between them.

However, in the new currency notes, the dimensions and tactile marks of the various denominations are not identifiable making it almost impossible for blind people to differentiate between them.

Cash transactions have become challenging for blind people as they cannot identify the value of a currency, says Vishal Jain, President Blind Graduates forum of India (BGFI).

Technology can be a useful option to identify currency and we appreciate RBI to factor a few of the suggestions provided by Blind Graduates Forum of India on technoligy solutions. However it can never be the only solution in Indian scenario. Currency should be designed to make it identifiable without the need for any additional tool or Technology. Representatives of blind community have been closely interacting with RBI since 2010 and the need for minimum of 10 mm size variation along with easily perceptible tactile marks has been expressed as one of the key priorities. Surprisingly RBI has not lived up to its commitment even after acknowledging the problem and the need. Hence blind graduates forum of India, an NGO has filed a PIL with an appeal to make all modes of making monetary transactions accessible for blind. The PIL has been filed after several meetings with RBI and attempts with the Finance ministry on accessible Indian currency. Vishal Kumar Jain, President Blind Graduates forum of India - BGFI

This led the BGFI to file a petition seeking to make all modes of making monetary transactions accessible for blind. The PIL was filed after several meetings with RBI and attempts made with the Finance Ministry regarding accessible Indian currency, adds Jain.

Since it is not feasible to recall the currency notes at this stage, the only solution at present is to find a way to enable the people with visual impairments to use the existing notes. The RBI seems to believe that the solution lies in technology. It will focus on developing a device that will help visually impaired people to identify notes and has invited tenders for software or hardware solutions.

Mumbai-based lawyer Amar Jain, who is visually impaired, is among those who has been fighting to make the new currency notes accessible. "The RBI is now taking action under pressure and it is unfortunate that the currency notes were not made accessible in the first place. However, we hope that this will be taken as a lesson by the authorities and in future such mistakes will not be repeated."

For it to be truly effective, the device should be able to detect the banknotes in no longer than two seconds, should read the denomination in English or Hindi, work without net connection, have a handy design and work on battery. These are some of the conditions set by the RBI.

Although there are some existing options such as smartphones apps that can identify a note value, these are not available to everyone due to limited technology reach, poor distribution network and low awareness.

ALSO READ: 6 by 6 - BarrierBreak's amazing new app helps visually impaired people identify currency

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