Future Reflections Special Issue, Vol. 14 No. 2
by Peggy Elliott
[PICTURE] Peggy Elliott uses her Braille skills daily for many tasks
A little while ago, a mother of a blind teen-ager asked me how I managed my personal financial affairs. Well, actually, she asked me how I wrote checks and knew how much was in my bank account. So, I decided to write down how I do it so this teen-ager and others might have a head-start in learning how to keep track of their own financial accounts.
I know that many blind adults and young adults do manage their financial affairs for themselves. But, I am afraid that the widespread lack of Braille instruction and the running-down of Braille by many professionals in the blindness field has led all too many blind people to conclude that Braille cannot be used in managing financial affairs. This beating-up on Braille is added to the usual situation we blind people face--that the sighted do things in print and have made it easy for themselves to do so. In the case of checking accounts, banks give away printed registers already set up to write down checks and deposits. I am sure that every blind person with a checking account has had the experience of having someone offer to "write it down for you" on a print register everytime they use help with writing out a check. But what good would that do? The writing would be in print. I always politely decline. I have my own way. It's in Braille.
I use the four-by-six card slates that can write ten lines on a four-by-six card. The slate holes, once impressed, stay there. This allows you to go back to the card over and over again and write more information on new lines or already-used lines as desired. I do both.
The cells on these card slates are limited, so I devised my own shorthand system for bookkeeping. I write down the same information print users write down, but I put it in my own order to make further use easy. Here's how I do it:
1. The first cell tells what the line will contain. I use three symbols: plus (dots 3, 4, 6), minus (dots 3, 6) and equals (using two cells with dots 4, 6 followed by dots 1, 3).
2. After the plus, minus, or equals sign is always a number sign (dots 3, 4, 5, 6). I know that numbers are coming, but this is useful later on.
3. After the number sign, I write the number of what has happened. This can be the amount of a check, the amount of a deposit, or the total of all checks and deposits since the last time I totaled.
4. After the amount, I leave a space and then, in the case of a deposit or running total, I write the date. I put the date in dropped numbers with a forward slash between month and day. For example, a deposit made on May 14 would have: Dots 2, 6; dots 3, 4; dot 2; dots 2, 5, 6.
5. In the case of a check, I write a two- or three-cell abbreviation for whom the check was written. This is followed by a space, then the date, and finally the check number. For example, a check to Master Card is identified as "MC," and a check to the local grocery store McNally's is labeled "MCN." For any check I have written I can think of a two- or three-cell description. I take advantage of the many Braille contractions. For example, my pharmacy is Tharp's, and you can get "Tharp" in three cells in Braille. There is often not room to leave a space between the date and check number, but I put the check number in upper-cell numbers so that it cannot be confused with the date written in dropped numbers. Sometimes I can't fit the whole check number at the end of the line. If I can't, I try very hard to get the last number on the line. I can usually fit the last two numbers. When I can fit all four numbers on a total line this gives me the guidance I need when another line only takes one number. And, when I start a new card, I write the last check number from the previous card at the end of the first line if the first line is a deposit or equal line.
6. I have several accounts, so I identify each account with a single letter like P for personal checking and S for savings. This is written on the first cell of the first line of every card that carries information about that account. I keep the current card in my purse, and I put cards with ten lines on them in an envelope in order.
7. Whenever I need to know how much money I have available in the account (not what the bank has but what I have and have not used for checks), I find the last running total, add deposits, subtract checks, and write in the new running balance. Of course, when I open a new account, I start the first card with a singe-letter account designation followed by a plus sign followed by the amount I put in to open the account.
8. Each month when I get the bank statement for the account, I have a reader tell me the amounts of deposits on the statement, the numbers of checks that have cleared, and the ending balance for the statement. In a checking account with a lot of activity, this takes no more than ten minutes. Then, after the reader is gone, I get out all my cards and check my figures against the bank.
9. First, I go through and add dots 1 and 2 to every number sign before a check that cleared on that statement. I find the checks by reading check numbers on the right of the card and then count what line from the top the check is on. I then flip over the card and "clear" the check by making the number sign into a complete blot. I do the same with deposits. For every card with ten complete blots or equal signs (not used in this step), I turn the card backwards in the envelope, keeping the cards in date order. That card is fully used; the information on it has been used up by both my system and the bank's.
10. To be sure that I agree with the bank, I then find all the checks without complete blots and all the deposits that are the same way. I find a running balance line that has all unused (still number signed) amounts and use that total as my start for comparison. To this number, I add all the checks that have not yet cleared and subtract any deposits I have written but which have not yet been received by the bank. The resulting number should be exactly the ending balance of the bank.
11. If it is not, I then go back and check the amounts of checks which have cleared on the bank's statement and the amounts of the deposits shown on the bank's statement with a reader. This does take time, but I have found over the years that I rarely have to do this second check if I have been careful to write exact check and deposit amounts when they happen and careful to add and subtract correctly from the last running balance. I use a calculator. I try to write down any financial transactions (checks or deposits) on the day they happen. Again, this takes mere minutes once you have the hang of it. The reward is that you are managing your own accounts. Reconciling takes a little longer, especially if you are not used to it, but it comes to take very little time once practice and care in writing down correct numbers become second nature. Sighted men and women manage their checking accounts exactly the same way (if they do it at all). Whether you do it as I do or in some other way, Braille is equally flexible as a tool for writing down financial transactions. The pocket slate can be used at the bank as the teller is accepting your deposit, at a store as you are waiting to sign a check while a reader is writing checks for you. If you don't carry a slate around with you, you should. If you don't carry your account cards around with you, you can carry one card on which you note all transactions and later put them into the card system at home. But, one way or another, use that Braille. It works for us just as slickly as print does for sighted checking account users.
Keep in mind that if you do write the information down when you make the transaction, you'll have it when you need it. If you don't, then you face an additional barrier. Unlike print users you can't just look back through your checks. So, have your own Braille list. It works fine.