Are Indian rupee notes and coins friendly to the visually-impaired?

R. Nagaraj, a visually-impaired seller of candles and agarbattis in Ooty, is extra careful when he handles money. He feels every rupee note with his fingers and discerns the denomination based on the length, breadth and thickness. Despite his attempts, there are times when customers get away with giving him short change. “If only our notes had Braille numbers!” says Nagaraj. How friendly are our rupee notes and coins to the visually-impaired?

“I find it difficult to differentiate between the present Rs. 5 and Re. 1 coins. They have the same size. Sometimes, I have to take someone’s help to identify them,” says R. Vijaykumar, a visually-impaired M.Phil student. “In the past, coins were all of different sizes. Rs. 5 coins, for instance, were thick. That made life a lot easier for us.”

M. Rajendran says that he finds it easy to distinguish rupee notes. Visually-impaired, he is in the incense business. “When someone hands me a Rs.1,000 note, I recognise it by its length — it is the longest of all,” he says. He too finds it difficult to recognise contemporary coins. “Rs. 2 coins had rough edges in the past. This made them easily identifiable. But this is not the case with the new ones.”

A visually-impaired person depends on his/her tactile sensation to ‘see’ the world. As indispensable objects, contemporary coins don’t render themselves well for daily activity.

“Today, the visually impaired cannot feel what is written on coins,” says ophthalmologist Amar Agarwal, secretary-general, Intraocular Implant and Refractive Society of India. “The new Re.1 and Rs.2 coins are exactly the same size.” How can a visually-impaired person carry out his/her activities with this impediment, he asks. In buses, at tea-stalls…the common man tends to use coins a lot. Coins must be designed such that one is able to identify a denomination by simply running his/her fingers over it, adds Dr. Agarwal. “We must be considerate towards the visually-impaired. The Reserve Bank of India can introduce coins of various denominations in varying sizes. Also, one must be able to feel the engravings on the surface,” he says. Rupee notes however, feels Dr. Agarwal, are friendly to the visually-impaired.

With coins such as these, we are making the visually-impaired dependant on others, says Dr. V. Triveni, consultant ophthalmologist at Dr. Agarwal’s Eye Hospital. Not just them, people with macular degeneration and even those aged over 40 may find it difficult to handle contemporary coins, she adds.

However, life has to go on and visually-impaired people have found ways to deal with the problem. Says Rajendran, “We concentrate a lot on every activity we do. I always take up one task at a time. And thankfully, no one has ever cheated me over money.”