You get it from your mother, and it is not that bad!


A simple color matching test nearly all kindergarten and preschool children can perform and pass.

Which is better, one or two? Anyone who has had their eyes examined for glasses has been asked this question. Some patients, especially if color vision has been mentioned, are asked to look at a circle made up of small multi-colored dots and say what they see. Most will respond confidently and say, “I see a 6” (or some other number or shape that has been embedded). From there, they will look at a series of similar circles with “hidden” clues and give the right answer. These people are said to have normal color vision.

This same test will be failed by 8% of boys and .5% of girls who inherit the condition from their mother on an X chromosome. They will look at the circle and say, “I don’t see anything recognizable” or perhaps they will report seeing a vague pattern that is “wrong.” These individuals are deemed “colorblind”—or, more accurately, “color deficient.”

I learned I was colorblind when I was eighteen years old and a sophomore in college. When I brought home my new “brown” suit, my roommate told me it was green. Oh well, I thought, it looks brown to me.

Seven years later, in my first month of internship, I was in the emergency room presenting a patient to a staff ophthalmologist. For some reason that I do not remember, the subject of color vision came up and I mentioned that I was colorblind. The doctor said, “It’s a good thing that you’re not an ophthalmologist.” This hit me because I had signed the contract a week before to start an ophthalmology residency in Indiana. I didn’t mention this to him.

Now, sixty years later, I can say that the ophthalmologist in the emergency room gave me bad advice. My color deficiency had no apparent effect on my work. In a way, it gave me a better understanding of this condition.

As chief medical officer at an Armed Forces examining station, and adhering to published guidelines, I disqualified applicants for helicopter-pilot training who failed those diagnostic color-vision tests. Later, I learned that even though I had thirty years of safe pleasure-boating experience, I could not qualify as a professional Great Lakes boat pilot because I could not differentiate red from green in certain circumstances. For the helicopter pilot and for me, these regulations were justified.

In recent years there has been a great deal of interest in studies about how children learn, including conditions that might be an obstacle to learning. Our group undertook such a study and we determined that in the 1,910 first-, second- and third-grade students we examined, there was no evidence that color vision had any effect on academic performance as determined by reading ability.

In my experience, color-vision testing is important when used to qualify individuals whose job or activity requires accurate identification of color or to aid differential diagnosis, usually in cases with associated low vision. It should be stressed that color blindness is not a true handicap, and color vision should not be used to restrict any activity or predict failure in any endeavor except one that requires detailed color-vision testing to do the job properly.


By Savvy Senior

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2 thoughts on “Color Blindness

  1. I had a friend as a young adult named Charlie. Charlie had a unique way of dressing, somewhat louder than most of my other friends. I never questioned him about it and then I saw his apartment which he had painted a very bright vivid aqua. That’s when I learned he was color blind. I wish I remembered what color he saw but it wasn’t what I saw. Though his color perception was quite different from me and our friends, it always made me wonder if the color I see is the same tone and quality as others see.

  2. Many years ago I received a head injury in an automobile accident. Both of my eye nerves were partially paralyzed. I was cross-eyed and wore a patch to obscure the vision in my dominant eye. It’s a gross understatement to say that the thing that bothered me to most was my color perception. At the time, painting with oils was my passion. It seems odd to say, but when I tried to paint, my hand “knew” that I was not mixing the correct color. It was driving me crazy (a short trip). I had other things to deal with like my loss of depth perception. I had to move on. I abandoned painting and switched to portraiture using a pastel which yielded a skin tone of sorts. My husband believed that one examined a problem, made and decision, and never looked back. He did that. I believe that, for the most part, I have, too. But, I never think of color without remembering…

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