Conversations on Colorblindness

What follows is the text of a messages from Chogg who signed his message "from a sensory imbalanced individual."

Chogg references a CNN article relating to "new eyeglasses for red-green color vision". I reproduced that article and the FDA Talk Paper at my site since these things have a tendency to disappear after time. I want to thank Chogg for the references, these sites are well worth visiting.

Chogg wrote -

It may interest you to know that your e-mail conversation with Devin H. came up as the #2 search response for "correct colorblindness" at Google (a nice place to have high placement).

I enjoyed reading your conversations with other visitors to your website, and I'm color blind myself. I was surprised to learn that such a high percentage of males have some degree of color blindness. I've often said "at least I'm male, so I'm not expected to color coordinate well anyway". I was also surprised that many people are not tested at an early age. I had trouble learning my colors in 1st or 2nd grade, and for some reason my teacher and parents didn't attribute this to stupidity.

I was tested, and found to be "blue-green color blind". I don't think the eye doctor ruled out stupidity, but at least I had a good excuse. The test used the "circles of dots" like that on your website (I saw a number in your test, but it was 8). After thirty-something years of knowing this, and several years of internet access, this is the first time I've looked for information on the subject.

I don't remember any mention of color blindness when I got my driver's license. I learned at an early age that the white traffic light was green, the light orange was yellow, and the darker orange was red. After high school I considered joining the army, hoping to go into computers or electronics. I soon learned that color blindness banned me from both of these. That may be the only limitation I ever found from this trait.

I often explain to people that I can see colors but have trouble categorizing them. I think of pink, blue and purple as different shades of one "category". If two colors of equal brightness were placed side by side I may not know which was which, or if they were of the same color, but I think I could tell there was a difference between them. I don't think that any shade of blue could blend invisibly on any shade of purple. I never took the time to actually test this, so I may be wrong.

Years ago I heard of an eye doctor that could measure color blindness accurately enough to custom tint corrective contact lenses, all for about $300. I haven't heard anything about it since. I figured if I ever had $300 to waste, I might try them out of curiosity. Now I think that if they were available for $15, and I had it to squander, I'd rather buy shoes for someone in need... out of curiosity.

... a little later on...

After your site I continued on my information quest and found a CNN article from April 21, 2000 (here) about new eyeglasses for red-green color vision deficiency. They don't exactly correct color vision, but they help (for about $500 - $700). The article has some nice statistics as well. They said that 1 in 12 men have some level of color blindness, but 80% of these are red-green color blind and I'm supposedly blue-green.

Best regards from a sensory imbalanced individual.

Marty wrote -

Hi Chogg,

Thank you for your informative and amusing communication

Although the rate of colorblindness in males is high, you are correct in that it is rarely tested for, since it seems to be considered a "benign" problem, most doctors don't even seem to consider it to be an illness or disease and maybe it isn't anymore than being tone-deaf.

It does have its down side in that depending on the degree and type of your colorblindness there are certain things you cannot do, and some you shouldn't do, and some that are downright dangerous if you do them.

For instance, someone who is colorblind would probably not make a great artist - lack of color perception and sometimes an inability to tell when colors "don't go together".

Serious red-green deficiency could make driving hazardous - traffic lights and warning signs tend to be difficult or impossible to see.

Of course as you pointed out, many colorblind males dress strangely (at least non-colorblind folks seem to think so.) especially if they live alone.

It also makes reading maps in magazines and on TV difficult, especially weather maps. For some strange reason magazine layout folks seem to like placing black text on very dark (red, green, blue, or maroon/purple) backgrounds, or on pictures which makes the text impossible for me to read.

Most colorblind folks don't know they are unless someone points it out to them, or tests them. The most common places to be tested seem to be motor vehicle driving test and the military. I don't know of many companies that test for it.

I attempted to enlist in the air force after I graduated college (1964-65 timeframe), and I passed all the tests with flying colors until the last one, which was the colorblindness test. That was when I found out I was colorblind - and that the Air Force didn't want me because I couldn't read maps. Seems those pesky things are chock full of gradations of green and brown and red, which surprise, surprise was my colorblind area.

That ruled out flying, but didn't seem to rule out the army where it seemed everything was green or brown. Fortunately, or not, other things kept me out of the army.

Another interesting problem arises when it comes to filling out forms. Many forms are printed in light-green or light-blue on white paper. I have lots of problems with those forms.

I did find out later that LED displays are particularly hard to see if your are colorblind, as well as those ubiquitous little red lights that they use on machinery and electronics to indicate all sorts of things from "in use" or "in operation" to the little lights that indicate "I have a problem". Big red lights I can see, but they seem to like to use these little pin-head, or match-head, sized lights which blend into the background.

Like you, for some reason all the time I was growing up, no one ever considered that I was colorblind, not my parents, not my teachers and not my doctor. I guess I faked it real well, or they just concentrated on my successes in math, and the physical and social sciences and ignored the occasional disappointing art project. It was acceptable not to be able to draw.

Since aside from the Air Force pre-enlistment physical, I was never really tested for colorblindness, thus I don't know the extent of it. Most of what I know I have learned through my own research.

I have had many eye exams by Ophthalmologists and most declined to do any extensive testing claiming it wasn't necessary since it wasn't dangerous, and there was nothing they could do about it anyway.

As an interesting note, a few years ago during my annual eye exam the doctor told me that I had the very beginnings of cataracts in my right eye but that it was too early to do anything about it. Cataracts are a condition where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy.

The following year a different doctor told me the same thing during the same routine annual exam.

This year the doctor told me that the cataract had progressed to the point of being a real problem and was in both eyes and that they had to be treated. The normal treatment involves surgery where the eye surgeon removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with a new plastic one. It is a simple operation, very common in older folks, takes under an hour, and it is usually done on an outpatient basis. The bandages come off the same day and the eye heals in about three to four weeks although normal sight returns the same day. The eyes were done on successive weeks.

What is interesting is that before surgery I needed a relatively strong prescription, but after the surgery I no longer need glasses, my sight is now 20/25 in both eyes, my vision is very sharp, and all the colors are crisp and clear. Although I am still colorblind, the contract between colors seems to be slightly different.

The interesting part for me is that my eyes deteriorated so gradually over the years that I didn't realize how bad they were, and couldn't tell that they were getting bad, until someone else told me so.

It is the same thing with colorblindness. We don't know what we see or don't see, or why, until someone else tells, us, because for us it seems perfectly normal, and we normally can't compare what we see to what those around us see.

For may years my I kept asking my mother where my tan shirt was, and for as many years she kept telling me I didn't have a tan shirt. At one point I asked her about the shirt while I was wearing it and she said that wasn't tan, it was green. OK, so now she told me, did that mean tan and green looked the same to me, or did it mean that I had the wrong label on the color? I assumed the latter.

The CNN article you sent was really informative as were the links from it, especially the link at the end of the article to the "FDA Talk paper".

I have added your message to my site and will add this reply once I send it.


Last updated July 25, 2002