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When Trust Is Eroded; How the Blind Juggle with Money

Ordinarily, Komakech would just need to pick a note from his pocket and pay cash, like any other person. But because paper money in Uganda does not have any form of distinguishable tactile marking, he ends up spending and losing more.
21 Jan 2021 14:25

Audio 7

Denis Komakech, a visually impaired man in Gulu scrolls through his phone to pay for a purchase, as the only trusted option for cash transactions. 

Ordinarily, Komakech would just need to pick a note from his pocket and pay cash, like any other person. But because paper money in Uganda does not have any form of distinguishable tactile marking, he ends up spending and losing more. He says he has lost a lot of money to unscrupulous people who gave him less change after he gave them a big note. He never recovered any of his lost money, because he always realized late.

Using his talking phone which tells him which digit he has pressed, Komakech chose to transact using mobile money, to avoid loses of any kind. Although paying using mobile money requires him to pay a little more through withdrawal charges, Komakech says it is better than losing more to a dishonest person.

//Cue in; “The biggest amount… 

Cue out…or five k.”//

Komakech works as a policy and advocacy officer for a charity organization in Uganda, and his position requires him to travel a lot. This, he says makes him prone to losing money, especially when using public transport.

He also says he fears being handed a fake note, which he says he has no idea how to detect.   

//Cue in; “I have heard that…

Cue out…skills to identify.”//

Before the idea of using mobile money to make payments crossed his mind, Komakech says he identified his note shillings by the sizes and shapes. However, he says this came with errors, especially if the note was only one and he could not make a comparison. 

//Cue in; I took an…   

Cue out…one is better.”//    

Elizabeth Abur, a blind teacher and mother of six says that whenever she wants to buy many items, she sits and sorts her note shillings according to the different denominations and puts each denomination in a separate pocket, making sure to master which pocket contains which notes.     

Abur says that when given one million shillings of different denominations, she requires about an hour to sort them out. This method, she says, is tedious and time-consuming, but is better entrusting someone else with her money.   

//Cue out; “The only thing… 

Cue out…nobody will cheat you.”//   

Just like Komakech, Abur says she has lost a lot of money to dishonest people who hand her back little change, especially when she used the 20,000 or 50,000 Shillings note.    

//Cue in; “You give 10 k… 

Cue out…you gave me 20.”//    

Denis Ocen Lakwonyero, a councillor for persons with disability in Gulu, says he uses the size method to identify his money, but admits that he has also lost money using this method, saying it is not a completely reliable method. “Each note has a different size, the smaller the denomination, the smaller the size,” Ocen says.    

Charles Byekwaso, the acting Executive Director of Uganda National Association of the Blind, UNAB, says he can only ably identify the coins, but has to rely on trusted people to sort his note shillings. 

//Cue in; “Bank of Uganda…

Cue in…in my pocket.”//    

Byekwaso says that although Uganda shillings notes have different sizes, it is not an excellent way for the blind to identify money, because one needs to have all the notes arranged in their order of sizes to know which one is which, otherwise, it confuses them.   He appeals to the Bank of Uganda to consider putting braille on the note, to save their time when identifying notes, and also reduce the loss of money to unscrupulous people.

//Cue in; “Especially the bodaboda… 

Cue out…never been attended to.”// 

Tech giants have also invented assistive technology devices and mobile apps to help people who are blind or visually impaired identify money. These will tell the user – either verbally or through tones or vibrations – the denomination of each bill. 

Blind-Droid Wallet for instance is an Icon specifically made to help people with visual impairments to identify money. The user will only need to lay their money on a flat surface and use the rear camera of the smartphone and they are alerted to the money’s currency and value.