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Friday, March 18, 2011

An iPhone App Helps the Blind Identify Currency

By NICK BILTON
From http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/

For the millions of blind people living in the United States, paying for something in cash can pose major challenges because there is no difference between the size and shape of a $1 or $100 bill. To tackle this problem, many blind people set up systems to identify a bill’s value by folding the notes into different sizes and shapes, which then make them easily identifiable later.

A new application, the LookTel Money Reader, available for $2 on the Apple iOS platform, hopes to help solve this problem by taking advantage of the devices camera to “read money” and speak the value of the currency out loud.

According to the company’s Web site, LookTel recognizes all United States currency and can read $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills aloud.

LookTel, which is made by the software company Ipplex, says the app can recognize currency denominations in real-time. This means that users can simply wave their phone in the direction of the currency and it will speak the bill’s value as it falls into view of the camera. The application does not require an Internet connection.

The currency reading software will soon be available on other platforms, LookTel said.

Identifying United States currency has long been a problem for the visually impaired. Other countries print currency on different sizes and shapes specifically to help people with sight problems identify the different denominations through touch.

Last year, a federal appellate court ruled that under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Treasury Department must change the currency to make it more accessible to the visually impaired.

The iPhone’s software already offers a number of features to assist the visually impaired. Under the phone’s Settings menu, users can navigate to an Accessibility area, which enables them to enlarge the phone’s graphics and text. Apple also offers Voice Over, which speaks text aloud when the phone’s screen is touched.

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