Living with Colour Blindness

08/05/2020 10:11

Colour blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world.  Whilst most of the colour-blind population will have inherited the condition, some people can acquire colour blindness because of other illnesses such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or due to ageing.  Although colour blindness affects the perception of colour, it does not affect the clarity of vision.  Most people with colour blindness are able to see things as clearly as people without colour blindness but are unable to see red, green or blue light completely.  The most common form of colour blindness affects the perception of red and green light which means that individuals with this form of colour blindness mix up colours with red and green hues.

Similar to dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism, colour blindness is a spectrum condition, with the severity of affected colour perception varying from individual to individual.  Today, Picaroon Kim talks to Claire about her ten-year-old son’s colour blindness.

Kim: Hi Claire!  Thank you for agreeing to talk with me today about Lewis’ colour blindness.  What age was Lewis when he received a diagnosis of colour-blindness?

Claire: Lewis was in Year 4 when we received a diagnosis for colour blindness (8 years old).

Kim: And what was it that made you think Lewis was colour blind?

Claire: I remember a car in the car park at work that was blue, but Lewis kept calling it purple.  He did this a few times over the course of a few weeks.  There were other times when he was a bit younger when he looked at things like shop signs and road signs and would say they were a different colour, but it is harder when children are younger as you put it down to developmental age and confusing colours.  Also, he would choose inappropriate colours for painting and colouring pictures, but again, I put down to his developmental age.

Kim: That’s really interesting about assuming colour errors are due to early development and confusion.  Can you explain the diagnostic process?

Claire: Diagnosis is really easy.  You can get tested at any opticians, but you need to request it when booking an eye test, as it is not part of the standard eye test.  They use a similar test to ones you can find online where a number is presented within a circle of dots in one colour and the number is surrounded by dots of a different colour.  (It’s called the Ishihara Colour Test).  There are three spectrums of colour and Lewis cannot see two of them (Tritan and Deutan).

Kim: It’s refreshing to hear of a simple diagnostic process; so often with SEN they are laborious.  Thinking about Lewis’ school-life, does he receive any additional help in class to access the learning?

Claire: The school were supportive and teachers looked up what this meant for a child in their classrooms.  I remember the Head Teacher sending information out to class teachers to raise awareness.  With his colour blindness, I am not aware of any strategies that are used in class to support him.  He has had coloured paper, coloured rulers, etc. to support his dyslexia, but I am not sure how helpful this is to him as I am not sure what colours he can see.  A lot of strategies in class involve children using colour, e.g. ‘traffic lighting’ their work to demonstrate understanding.  [The idea is that a child would colour their work green if they understood it, yellow if they weren’t too sure and red if they found the work very challenging].  I couldn’t say whether he has always been able to do this accurately or not.  He can pick out some colours…I guess the same as any other child learning colours – he has been told what he can see is a certain colour and this is how he has learnt that shade is a given colour.

Kim: Yes, raising awareness is crucial and I’m pleased to hear the school were proactive.  It’s interesting how the resources used to help Lewis’ dyslexia may actually be redundant because of his colour blindness.  Similar to Lewis learning the shades he perceives are specific colours, has he devised any tricks to limit the negative implications of colour-blindness?

Claire: That is tricky to answer – with traffic lights he knows the top light is red, the middle is orange/yellow and the bottom light is green.  I guess repetition helps to let him know what colour something is if it is going to pose a danger e.g. ensuring he knows that when the top colour is the brightest on traffic lights, that means he can cross – or to teach him to listen for the sound that it is safe to cross (when traffic lights have the audio-feedback).  I did label his colours with sticky labels with the name on so that he knows which colour is which; however, I don’t know how useful this is as he will want to colour a picture with colours he can see and what he wants the picture to look like from his perception.

Kim: You’ve devised some good tricks!  Thanks for the advice, Claire.  Is there anything else you’d like teachers to know to help them support children with colour blindness?

Claire: I have spoken to Lewis’ class teacher in the past about not using colours (such as yellow) on the IWB [Interactive Whiteboard] as this is difficult for him to read.  I guess teachers just need to be aware of the children in their classes who are colour blind and thinking about the work they set – don’t give them a task that means they will get it wrong if they use the wrong colour e.g. colour the 5x table in red – instead get the child to choose colours they can see to use as a key.

I had a conversation with the science teacher at secondary school during the open evening and they said that we just need to put this on his application when he starts.  It will be more relevant in secondary school, particularly in subjects such as science where children need to mix chemicals together to create a reaction.  A lot of schools (primary and secondary) tend to use their IWB a lot during teaching and I am not sure whether it would be more helpful to give printed sheets for children to use.

I think colour blindness is the same as any other SEN (although it is not classed as such!) – that the child does not need constantly reminding of it, so help needs to be offered in a discreet way.  It’s a bit like dyslexia – if a big fuss is constantly made over a child having it, it knocks their self-esteem and makes them believe that they are different.  In turn, I think this makes them think they can get away with not doing things/not wanting to try and using their SEN as an excuse not to try.

Kim: Claire, you have been a fantastic help in educating us about colour blindness.  Thank you for sharing your and Lewis’ experiences of living with colour blindness and I wish him all the luck in his final year of primary school.

 To find out more about colour blindness, visit the Colour Blind Awareness website.


Written by: Holly Pigache.