Conversations on Colorblindness

Recently I received an interesting message from Aaron C. Aaron is describes his attempts to "cure" his colorblindness. Although I told him that I think he is fooling himself and that what he is trying to do may ultimately be dangerous to himself and others, he seems bound and determined to go ahead with his plan. Judge for yourself. (note: the messages are presented in their original form, no editing or corrections were made

Aaron wrote -

Hello Marty,

How are you doing? I am interested in color blindness so I was searching the the internet and I came across your website. I read some of the conversations you had with other individuals who have experienced color blindness first-hand and through relatives. I noticed that a few people mentioned that they found out or their kids found out they were color blind when they were in elementary school.

One day in high school, my Science teacher asked all the students to turn to a specific page. She said, "can you all see the number 67"? And of course, everyone said 'yes'. She then asked, "Can all of you see the number 29 right below it?" For a minute I thought I was on the wrong page so then I kept thumbing through the pages and then finally realized that I couldn't see the number. When the teacher asked, "Who can't see the number?" To my dismay, I was the ONLY in the class of 40 students that could not see the number. It was weird because I never thought I was colorblind; even to this day (I'm 22), I really can't tell unless a dark color car is near.

I was also interested in becoming a fighter pilot so I then realized that colorblindness is a serious issue. Since two or three days ago, I have been inspired to "better" my color blindness. I was looking at 8 different Ishara plates about two days ago, and I could only make out 2 numbers. I have been spending quite some time studying these images and trying to "train" my eyes to recognize the differences in contrast. I might not be able to see the bright colored number very easily, but I'm getting to the point to where I can distinguish between the different hues. I am somewhat "better" at those tests and I am gaining the ability to either somewhat recognize the numbers and even trace them out with my finger. Although, the number doesn't jump right out to me like they do to my friends, I am determined to get to that point one day.

Also, I am curious if there are any benfits to being color deficient vs having normal color vision? Some years ago, I tested my eyes at 20/10. I'm not sure if I have the same now, but I just though I would put that bit in. Do you know of any benefits?

Marty wrote -

Interesting - I find you attempt to "better" your eyes by concentration - Colorblindness is a genetic defect (if you want to call it that) or a genetic deficiency (which sounds better), or a chromatic challenge (which probably sounds best).

In any case if you already know what is there you can with practice pick out the dots that make up the number or design. but it is sort of like trying to better your eyesight by concentrating on the eye chart. After a while you will be able to "see" the letters and numbers (or maybe remember the letter and number sequence) but of someone uses a different chart, or a different colorblindness test, you might not be so luck.

Face it you do not see colors the same way as everyone else does, and you do not see some colors at all. That means that reading maps and temperature charts or any graphics which rely on color gradations will be dicey. If your life depended on it would you want to take the chance? Aviators rely on weather maps and other maps to fly. Dials and gauges and even warning lights rely on changes in color to alert us to critical changes. Want to take the chance that you will see them every time? Colorblind people have trouble with shades of green and brown and red, red on black (LED displays) blue and green (LCD displays, etc.)

To the best of my knowledge, colorblindness is irreversible, and non-correctable, but good luck in your attempts. The best thing you can do is accept it like some of us accept the fact that we are tone-deaf, or have little if any hand-eye coordination, or manual dexterity, etc.

Aaron wrote -


Thanks for responding. To a point, I believe that and accept that I am "chromatically challenged" (LOL - interesting diction). I also believe that everyone (even people with "normal" vision) sees color differently whether it is very noticable or on a nano-level. Could there be an "acceptable range" to safely fly a jet? There are about a dozen FAA-certified color tests that can be taken. What if an individual were to pass at least one of those tests? Would it still be acceptable since it's FAA-approved? And if it's FAA-approved, that must signify that the test will judge whether one can see all 'necessary' colors when operating an aircraft. Also, if a person has absolutely no ability to see the necessary colors, then that individual will not be able to pass a single test. What do you think? And besides, are there any benefits to having a slight red-green colorblindess over having 'normal vision'?

About training my vision... I am going to try and relate it to those 3-D pictures. Have you ever looked at those? You know, the ones where you have to look through the image or even cross-eyed to make out the image? Well, those take some practice at the beginning. I remember when I was a kid, it was a little difficult for me to see those, and now I can see them within a matter of two or three seconds. When I look at those Ishihara images, I can see the colors and dots that make up the number. I am trying to see if I can train my vision to be able to pick out the dots that are a different shade than its background. If I look closely at the image, the dots that make out the number have a totally different color than the rest of the dots. That kind of show some hope; except that those dots might not appear as intense, I can still recognize whether it's green, red, yellow, orange, etc. We'll see what happens.

Marty wrote -

The benefits of "normal vision" are that you have normal vision, whatever that is, and you may or may not dress funny. As far as everything else - you can probably "learn" how to pass some of the test, probably well enough to pass, the same way people learn eye test to pass their driver's license exams, but the question is not can you but should you. These tests are put in place to protect people, both those being tested and the public.

Would you want to fly in a plane with a colorblind pilot?

What happens if you are faced with a topography map where altitudes are in shades of green and brown?

Or with a weather map with isobars differentiated in shades of blue?

I think what you are trying to do is a very, very bad idea, and dangerous for you and everyone else.

However, These messages will make a great addition to my list of conversations.

Aaron wrote -


Thanks for the note. I went to the othamologist a few days ago and I did some color vision tests. I took that Ishihara test and passed it. I also took that Farmsworth test and got a perfect score on it. The doctor testing me is a former Air Force pilot and I told him that I am able to make out most of the numbers (about 75%) of them whereas my friends can make out at least 95% of them and he said that all people with 'normal' color vision are not going to be able to read all of the numbers. I passed the tests he gave me and he said that I am fit for being a pilot. That Farmsworth test has different shades of green, brown, blue, red, and purple and I can distinguish between every color and I got a perfect score on it. He said that I'm good enough. And on an even more positive note, I test my vision and I'm better than 20/20! I tested at 20/10!

Last updated August 31, 2005