Color Blindness – An Invisible Disability

Color Blind Test ControlIt was a simple request. My first grader was playing with a set of brightly colored foam shapes that he’d been placing on cards to make pictures. He’d been working contentedly for quite a while but now it was time to move to a different activity. My request was for him to sort the colors out and put everything back in the box.

When he had finished the task to his own satisfaction he proudly said,” Look, I’m all finished!” But there was a problem. I pointed out that he’d forgotten to sort the shapes in one of the containers. He looked puzzled and responded, “Those are all the same color.” It was a moment of instant understanding for me. He had failed to sort the purples from the blues because he saw only one color. My son was color blind. The color distinction was extremely obvious to me but not to him. It was also not a new issue for me. I’d watched my mother match my father’s clothes for years. He was also color blind.

Color blindness occurs in 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. At my house, those statistics are way off. I have seven sons, four of which are color blind. I also have one female cousin who is color blind.

While there is much information about color blindness available, those of us who have normal color vision may find it difficult to imagine living life with this disability.  One year I decided to go very simple with my Christmas decorations. I put up a tree and decorated it with simple silver ornaments and bright red bows. My color blind sons were not impressed. They say that was the most boring Christmas tree we ever had. For them, the red bows were the same color as the green tree. After that, I tried to be more varied in my decorating choices!

There are quite a few careers that are not a possibility for those with a color deficiency. My color blind sons cannot be pilots, electricians, firefighters or police officers. I have one who loves cars and works for a car dealership, but he’ll never be able to work in the body shop. And my boys probably wouldn’t do too well as painters or landscape designers.  I also have one son who may have become a chef but the color issues were just too big of a challenge.

Even though there are limitations in regard to career choices, we are thankful that we live in the US where they can all obtain driver’s licenses. In some European and Asian countries, those with color blindness are prohibited from driving. There is much being done through research that is promising for those who are color blind but in the meantime, there are things you can do as a parent to make your child’s life a little easier.

Here are some resources with helpful information about color blindness. There are many ways to help your color blind student work around the often color dependent learning materials available.