Traffic lights: the changing world of color blindness

Almost one year ago, I bought my husband the most expensive anniversary gift in our 15-year history: a single pair of sunglasses. He couldn’t understand why I had made him drive to a park, hike in and stand under a bunch of trees just to open his present. Then he opened the box, one marked Enchroma, in large, shiny letters.

His eyes widened, and he looked up at me, equal parts delighted and nervous. I told him to go ahead: he took a deep breath, put them on and then was struck silent with wonder. It was an incredible moment. He didn’t cry at the trees, which made him exclaim, “There are different shades of green?” He didn’t cry when he looked at the flowers. He cried when he saw the traffic lights – because he realized how different the world looked for everyone else.

Color blindness, also called color vision deficiency, is when people’s perceptions of color are difference than from what most other people see. The most severe forms of these deficiencies are referred to as color blindness. Until they are told or tested, most people with color blindness aren’t aware of their condition – to them, their world looks normal.

There are three main kinds of color blindness, based on how the cones in your eyes respond to blue, green and red light. Red-green color blindness – the kind my husband has – is the most common, followed by blue-yellow color blindness. A complete absence of color vision – total color blindness – is rare. Men are much more likely to be color blind than women because the genes responsible for the most common, inherited color blindness are on the X chromosome and therefore cannot be compensated for with an additional X chromosome.

In the last five years, there have been major jumps in technology to help those with color blindness, the biggest being color-blind glasses. Enchroma, the kind of glasses that helped my husband, are an amazing product that works by selectively filtering out certain wavelengths of light at precise points. Ordering them is a risk, as they may not work for every color blind person, but for us, it was absolutely worth it. Other leaps in color blind technology includes apps like Color Binoculars, that applies filters to incoming images and changes the colors on screens to ones that are easier to distinguish.

A recent children’s book available at Anythink, Erik the Red Sees Green by Julie Anderson, is the story of Erik, a color blind kid who struggles in school because of his color deficiency. The description of the book reads: Exuberant redhead Erik always tries his best, but he just can’t understand why he’s missing homework questions at school and messing up at soccer practice. Then one day in art class everyone notices that Erik’s painted a picture of himself with green hair! It turns out he’s not just creative, he’s color blind, too. Color blindness, also known as Color Vision Deficiency (CVD), affects a significant percentage of the population. The tendency to color-code learning materials in classrooms can make it especially hard for kids with CVD. But once Erik is diagnosed, he and his parents, teachers, coach, and classmates figure out solutions that work with his unique way of seeing, and soon he’s back on track. Erik the Red Sees Green is a great resource for parents and teachers who are looking to change their home or classroom to accommodate colorblind children in their lives. 

Are you wondering if you are color blind? There are a number of tests online, including Dr. Shinobu Ishihara’s Test for Color Deficiency (the most well-known color blindness test), the F-M 100 Hue Test, The Color Arrangement Test and the RGB Anomaloscope.

References: National Eye Institute