PARIS -- In a class for blind and visually impaired children, 9-year-old Gregoire Bouchetout traces his fingertips over a few euro coins, searching for tiny notches and raised patterns that will help him tell them apart.
The two-cent piece has a little groove running along its edge, he notices. The two-euro coin is bigger, heavier and "has ridges on the edge that make your fingernail vibrate if you scratch it," he explains.
Everyone in the 12-nation euro zone has eight coins and seven new bank notes to get accustomed to when the new single currency becomes legal tender New Year's Day. For the blind, that means mastering minute tactile details that most people never notice. It also means hours of practice.
Thousands of people, many of them volunteers, some of them blind themselves, have been trained to help familiarize the visually impaired with the new currency. Their tools are board games, talking calculators and "euro cash tests" -- plastic gadgets the size of a credit card that measure the coins and bills to indicate their denomination.
The switch would have been much more difficult if the euro hadn't been designed with the blind in mind.
Seven years ago, even before countries agreed on a name for the currency, the European Blind Union started working to make sure their needs were taken into account.
What people feared most was a bank note design similar to the U.S. dollar -- a currency that's a nightmare for anyone who has trouble seeing. Unlike many existing European currencies that vary bank notes by denomination, every U.S. bank note is the same size and color, whether it's a dollar bill or a $100 bill.
Each denomination of the new euro bills has different dimensions and comes in a different candy-colored hue, such as magenta and lime green. The coins have different sizes, weights and textured edges.
Most blind people are pleased with the final euro design.
"I'd say that about 95 percent of our recommendations were taken into account," said Mokrane Boussaid, director of the European Blind Union's main office in Paris.
Boussaid said European monetary institutions were very cooperative. Once in a while, they needed a little push. A few years ago, the group noticed a problem with 10- and 50-cent coin samples for the euro line: The milling on their edges was much finer than what had been agreed on. The group campaigned for weeks, and the French mint agreed to melt down 9 million coins it had already produced.
Only one important suggestion was turned down. The group lobbied for a polygonal coin like the British 50-pence piece, which has seven sides, but the vending-machine industry opposed the move.
The European Blind Union is now focused on education. By now, many blind people have manipulated real euro coins handed out in advance.
In the Netherlands, the Visio institute for poor vision holds 90-minute classes for the blind, where participants act out scenarios they'll face starting Jan. 1, such as using the euro in shops.
On a recent afternoon at a Paris school for the blind, instructor Marie-Laure Martin passed around a book with raised patterns that are on euro coins: a map of Europe, a cathedral window, a bridge and its reflection in water.
In Belgium, many instructors use a board game designed by a blind former teacher to help people get acquainted with the currency.
With some practice, the blind should face no more problems than anyone else, said Hamou Bouakkaz, who founded France's Euro Vision program.
"Everybody's in this together, rich, poor, blind, sighted," said Bouakkaz, who is blind himself. "Now, people who aren't handicapped are going to have to do what we do all the time -- learn to adapt to new situations."
The European Union states adopting the euro are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain. Those staying out are Britain, Sweden and Denmark.
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