It’s hard enough for average bitcoin newbies to educate themselves as they learn the mechanics of financial sovereignty. For users with disabilities, it can be almost impossible. That’s why the Bitcoin Whitepaper in Braille project is working with the American Printing House for the Blind to translate the original bitcoin whitepaper for people to read offline, instead of strictly relying on digital audio files.

People crowdsourced more than a $1,900 in bitcoin donations to fund the first 50 copies. Adam Newbold, the Kentucky-based developer spearheading this project, is also working to help create the first cryptocurrency hardware wallet for the visually impaired. It’s called IcyWallet.

IcyWallet IcyWallet will allow blind bitcoin users to plug in a refreshable braille display and headphones for audio and braille support via BRLTTY. Photo: IcyWallet

Newbold has no vision issues. He recently started learning how to read braille when his wife signed the whole family up for a braille weekend class, just for something different. He quickly became passionate about the idea of inclusive literacy and later struck up a conversation on Reddit with a blind bitcoin enthusiast. When Newbold’s new online friend complained about the lack of options for visually impaired bitcoin users, Newbold pondered how to apply Satoshi’s ethos to this problem.

“I just feel like the inclusive spirit of bitcoin... is maximum inclusion and access for everyone, so I think it’s especially important in bitcoin for people to be going out of their way to help people who face obstacles to getting there,” Newbold told International Business Times. “No one should be forced to be reliant on other people to do things for them.”

Newbold is gathering supporters and developers to create open source software for people to make their own cryptocurrency wallets using a simple Raspberry Pi. He will make a few complete IcyWallet hardware products himself when the software is fully operational in 2018. But Newbold isn’t looking to become a hardware manufacturer. His goal is to help all bitcoin users have access to the same sense of security, regardless of disabilities.   

“The biggest barriers for the blind are accessibility,” Craig McGee, a bitcoin miner in the United Kingdom, told Bitcoin.com. “Most of the wallets are difficult to use, and the QT client interface doesn’t work too well with a screen reader...I fear developers just don’t think about accessibility for disabled people 99 percent of the time.”

Accessibility is a widespread problem in the bitcoin community. Even if a person teaches himself or herself all the technical expertise needed to really contribute to open source blockchain projects, the hardware products and software platforms themselves are rarely useful for people with limited eyesight. Canadian bitcoin user Michael Staffen sparked a dialogue on Reddit about the lack of options after a fight with cancer damaged his optic nerves.

“Every bitcoin wallet I have downloaded (Bitcoin QT, Multibit, Armory) are inaccessible to my screen reader,” Staffen wrote on in 2014. “This is making me very annoyed as I am a bitcoin supporter and I have acquired my own bitcoin I just can’t goddamn use them without getting help from someone else.”

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Since then, some efforts have been made to make mainstream tools more user-friendly for the blind. However, there are a lot of reasons why unique tools should be designed specifically for people with disabilities. “Think about the issues of someone with very little vision or none at all, relying on this primary audio interface," Newbold said. "Between homophones, for instance the word ‘nose,’ someone might capture that as ‘knows.’ It’s really important for the software to account for every possible facet of the blind experience.”

There are still many issues the bitcoin community needs to consider when it comes to users and disabilities. Many people with mental health issues struggle with responsible money management when they have a particularly bad episode. People with limited dexterity have different challenges. A wide range of tools will be needed for a variety of people with disabilities to take complete control of their own cryptocurrency. This hardware wallet for the visually impaired is a great place to start.