Money makes the world go round, so the saying goes. It is certainly a measure of success, a means to freedom – of expression, of advancement, of growth. At its most basic, money is a crucial means of day-to-day survival for millions of people around the world.

We were so excited when the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya announced on Madaraka day, that Kenya would roll out new notes as currency of the republic. The newly designed and minted notes were lauded to have amazing features – a new design, a more dainty size and modern security features that would make it so much harder for counterfeiters to work with.

Pictured of the new notes and description of the features

Our most significant excitement was that, according to the Central Bank of Kenya’s announcement, the new notes would represent a giant step in fostering the inclusion – particularly financial inclusion of people with disabilities – especially visually impaired persons (VIP).

The notes were said to have a tactile feature that would allow for visually impaired persons to know different nominations by touch. On the edge of the Kes 50 note would be one bar, Kes 100 would have two bars, Kes 200 would have three bars, Kes 500 four bars and the Kes 1000 note would have 5 bars.

The importance of these features cannot be gainsaid. With features like this we can easily have a blind mama mboga because she would know by touch how much money has been given her and how much change she should give. Her business could thrive and families would thrive along with her. A visually impaired office worker in town would have no problem commuting because they would be able to tell by touch how much change the conductor has given them. The possibilities and advantages to real people are endless.

Our team could not wait to see (and feel) the new notes. Crystal Asige, our Ability Programme Manager went to the central bank with some notes to exchange them for the new ones. She brought them back to our office, where our team keenly examined them.

Our team is happy to report that on all fronts Governor Njoroge’s announcement was spot on. All except one. After conducting our own usability tests for universal design on both VIPs and sighted users, it is found that these tactile bars – lines on the edge of the note that could identify them by touch – cannot be felt. The sighted users confirmed that they could see the lines, but when asked to close their eyes and find the exact same lines on each note , they could not.

We then went out and asked visually impaired persons around Nairobi to examine the notes and it was found that these lines were not in fact tactile.

At the Open Institute, we care about Universal Design, the idea that everything can be designed to be effectively used by everyone regardless of their ability. We have in recent times been working on mapping streets and buildings to review how accessibly they have been designed.

It is our feeling that Kenya is in danger of missing an opportunity to truly include the more than one million visually impaired persons who will struggle to use this currency. The Central Bank of Kenya should be persuaded to review the notes and make them more user friendly for everyone.