Exploring Colorblindness
May 15, 2015 12:08 PM   Subscribe

More than 15 million people in the U.S. and over 300 million worldwide don’t see normal colors. As one of those 300 million, Atlantic writer Oliver Morrison engages with different perspectives around colorblindness. Some are held by disability-rights activists who advocate for awareness as well as social approaches to mitigate the effects, others are those of scientists who have discovered medical treatments. Morrison also tries out a wearable solution offered by a US company.

More on color:

A compendium of online colorblindness tests

Previously on color and vision: Radiolab explores colors

A pean to the glory of the Mantis Shrimp
posted by prewar lemonade (22 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I forgot another previously! Also interesting to check out: This FPP linking to a Wired article about Jack Neitz and gene therapy.
posted by prewar lemonade at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2015

That Radiolab bit was great.

Made me want to inject my eyes with Mantis Shrimp DNA so I could see cooler rainbows.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2015

(And yes, I know it doesn't work that way.)
posted by cjorgensen at 12:29 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like most reporting on color experience, that Atlantic article is sloppy, especially when the author writes things like "I see 990,000 fewer colors than normal people." I really dislike when colorblindness is described in terms of people being able to see fewer colors, or when misleading pictures like the one of Elmo in the Atlantic article are used to try to illustrate the colorblind experience. Even worse is when people assert that tetrachromats (or the mantis shrimp) are able to see types of colors that the rest of us cannot.

What we know is that the colorblind are apt to confuse colors and are unable to make certain discriminations. What we do not know is that the colorblind experience fewer types of color. The latter does not follow from the former, and there's no real reason to think it's true.
posted by painquale at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

My husband has some colorblindness down in the green/blue area, and I would like to sit with him while he takes the test to gain better understanding. Perhaps I will even stop making fun of him when he calls things by the wrong color (Get my blue coat- you mean the green one? ahahahahahah)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:31 PM on May 15, 2015

This video came across my feeds a couple days ago and is pretty lovely. A man wears the glasses for the first time surrounded by his children in their bright winter gear and some flowers, too, that the family had planted in winter just for this, for him to see the colors. The narrator (his wife I imagine) is somewhat clueless to the extent of the experience he's having.

It's really quite lovely and has for me the feels.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:32 PM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Color, how can we ever tell the difference. I was diagnosed with color blindness when taking a vision exam required by Halliburton in 1982. This was part of getting a commercial class driver's license so that I could work in the Texas oil patch. The eye doctor suggested that I start wearing an x-Chrome contact lens on one eye so that I could pass the color blindness test. So, I did start wearing this dark red lens on my right eye, and holy crap. Vibrant colors started jumping out at me like the world was suddenly haywire. It was fun, but my right eye looked red and blood stained, to the point where even little children would ask mommy why the man had a red eye.

I like the world as I see it. I can tell the difference between a red light and a green light, and maybe I only am mildly color blind. My world is filled with color, just not maybe the color everyone else sees. There has not been a sunrise or sunset that failed to amaze my color perception.
posted by breadbox at 12:40 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I bought one of these glasses from EnVision. They did make colours brighter but the experience, to me, was not an epiphany, sadly. I am using them as fancy sunglasses (rather expensive ones, granted). YMMV.
posted by Parsnip at 12:55 PM on May 15, 2015

I bought a pair, being colorblind. Useless and does not deliver on its promises. While they do something to the color palate, it in no way makes it easier to distinguish colors, and generally just makes it even more confusing, even after using them for a couple of months while driving, an experiment that I'll not repeat. I've even lent them to other color-blind friends, 5 out of 5 of us agree, save your money.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:09 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My dad was red-green color blind (the most common form), and I've worked with three men over the years that were color blind. It isn't the most debilitating handicap around, but it can be a problem, or at least an annoyance.

One of the ones I worked with was an electrical engineer, and one of his big peeves was that he couldn't read resistor codes. When he needed to tell what a resistor was, he had to ask someone else to read off the colors to him.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:26 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Aw, that's disappointing about the EnVision specs. I'm red-weak and have trouble discriminating between e.g. red/black, purple/blue or yellow/bright-green as a result. It is particularly shitty for data visualization - I spent a lot of time yelling at people in graduate school to display stuff in yellow vs. blue or teal vs. orange and actually met some resistance because I guess that has slightly worse dynamic range for people who aren't colorblind, argh.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2015

Taupe. There is only taupe. And grue.

The problem with being red-green colourblind is that people immediately point at a bus and ask me what colour it is. And of course it is red. Single colours are not the problem, it's where red and green meet that the eye cannot cope.

posted by fallingbadgers at 1:35 PM on May 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

So good to see a post about this important topic on the purple.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:40 PM on May 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

The guitarist in one of my bands is red-green colourblind, and had a huge, brightly coloured mohawk. He literally turned up to a practice the one with green hair having genuinely thought he'd died it red, and was very confused by the comments he was getting. He's tried the fancy lenses that are supposed to help you distinguish colours, and reports they do nothing of any interest for him.
posted by Dysk at 3:38 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I lost my color vision in my 20s right around the time I was finishing my second art degree. I would take a shot in the eye in a hot second if I could have it back.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:59 PM on May 15, 2015

I have not R'dTFA but I was diagnosed as color blind at 11, at the same time I was prescribed the glasses I still wear. It has been a source of amusement and controversy between myself and my wife for the past 25 years, but as someone above indicated, simulations of colorblindness published in various media are both preposterous and insulting to me.

The way I explain my experience to others is that the more primary a color is, the clearer my perception of it is. Fire engines are red (traditionally), egg yolks are yellow, and the sky (or classic Metafilter) is blue. Easy. But the further away from primary you get, the less certain I become. Even purple, green, and orange are easy for me, but discerning whether some subtle earth tones are green or brown leave me stumped.

I would love to try these correcting contacts to see what all the fuss is about, but save missing out on an assignment as an electronics tech with the U.S. Navy when I thought about enlisting in my 20s (never did) I can't think of any way, other than being the butt of an occasional family joke, that it has caused me to suffer all these years.
posted by hwestiii at 5:27 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle, now there is an app for that.
posted by thedward at 6:22 PM on May 15, 2015

I'm partially colourblind. Really other than always failing the tests there isn't really any pronounced effect on my life. Sure once in a while it'll come up... and people that know occasionally go out of their way to ask me to name the colour of random objects. But other than restricting my choices of trade back when I joined the Navy as a teen it's never really mattered in my life.

I guess the fact that I only ever wear black clothes might be a result... but given the friends I ended up with I'm sure that would have happened anyway.
posted by cirhosis at 11:25 PM on May 15, 2015

It's been fun, seeing people get all interested in one of my hobbies. If you're color blind, I'm always interested in more feedback re: Dankam.
posted by effugas at 2:48 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is particularly shitty for data visualization ...

This is why we use Cubehelix.
posted by alby at 6:15 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

being redgreen color blind, I find it mildly annoying to emberassing. I have lost at boardgames because I couldn't distinguish between the red and green pieces, I've been made fun of for wearing mis-matched socks. I try to keep a sense of humor about it, but it's honestly tough having adult people chuckle about you being unable to distinguish some colors.

Also, f-k myst color puzzles. Even once I got them figured out, I had to guess and test a bunch of permutations because i couldn't tell the difference between their yellow/green and blue/purple. Still bitter about that one after more than 10 years.

My brother (also colorblind) actually worked for a board game company and some of the more thoughtful designers would ask for his input on color schemes.

I've actually found this site to have a really accurate color-blindess simulation: http://www.vischeck.com/examples/. Or at least I assume it's pretty accurate since their "normal" and "how it looks to a person with deuteranopia" pictures are indistinguishable to me.

There are some benefits: namely, I have to rely on reading darkness-lightness a lot more than people which means a lot of "camouflage" jumps right out at me. (I've heard the the army used color-blind people in helicopters to spot camouflaged camps, but that might be fiction). Also comes with significantly above-average low-light vision. Those are about the only two examples I can thing of where relying on color is actually a disadvantage.

That being said, I wish I could see colors like a normal person... as does my mom, who I inherited by broke-eyes from and who really wanted my brother or I to be an artist like herself. Irony
posted by ghostiger at 11:17 AM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

The way I explain my experience to others is that the more primary a color is, the clearer my perception of it is. Fire engines are red (traditionally), egg yolks are yellow, and the sky (or classic Metafilter) is blue. Easy. But the further away from primary you get, the less certain I become. Even purple, green, and orange are easy for me, but discerning whether some subtle earth tones are green or brown leave me stumped.

That's exactly how it is for me. I can distinguish between primary colors - red and green included - but I have a hard time with shades. Sometimes, people will ask me what color I see in a given situation when I tell them I'm color blind, and 95% of the time I see what they see. It's mostly just shades.

One thing that's maybe a little more prominent is that green traffic lights look white to me. Still easy to distinguish from red, however.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:13 AM on May 17, 2015

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