Who would ever think that even color blindness could be
connected to judging people favorably? Something to think
There are many people who have never met a color blind person,
and have never thought about the subject at all. Some of these
people think that there is no such phenomenon, that it is just
a figure of speech. I met a highly intelligent teacher once
who slapped a boy (in the `olden days') for being cheeky. He
had colored the leaves of a tree a bright red, and the teacher
had asked jokingly, "Are you color blind?" To which the child
had replied very positively that he was. When the teacher
related this story to me, I remarked that he probably was,
indeed, and this teacher was convinced that there was no such
What is color blindness? The Encyclopedia Britannica
writes: "The inability to distinguish one or more of the three
colors: red, green and blue." Color blind people may be blind
to one, two or all three of these colors.
Color blindness, perhaps color deficiency for those who regard
the term as offensive, affects about 7 or 8% of the male
population and 0.5% of females. That is about one in twelve
males and one in two hundred females. A color blind man and a
woman who sees colors normally, will have daughters with
normal vision who are carriers of this gene. The daughters'
sons, or at least some of them, will very likely be color
blind. If a color blind man is married to a carrier, then
their daughters might also be color blind. The sons of a color
blind man and a woman with normal vision, have normal color
vision themselves and cannot pass on this gene.
When light stimulates the retina which is a membrane lining
inside the back of the eye, a person sees. Tle retina is made
up of cones and rods. The cones which are located at the
center of retina let us see color by day, but are not much use
at night. This is why we cannot distinguish color at night.
The rods give us night vision, but do not distinguish
Many people think that color blind people see only black and
white, but this is not true. It is extremely rare for someone
not to be aware of any colors. The cones contain a
light sensitive pigment. Genes contain the coding instructions
for these pigments. If the coding instructions are wrong, the
cones will be sensitive to different wavelengths of light,
which results in the color deficiency.
People with normal cones and light sensitive pigments are able
to see all the different colors and shades by using cones
sensitive to one of three wavelengths of light: red, green and
blue, as mentioned before. There are many color deficient
people who do not even know that they have a problem. They are
poor at telling the difference in shades of red, orange,
yellow and green.
There are others who are not just poor at differentiating
between colors and shades. They are the severely color blind.
They see no difference between red, orange, yellow and green.
Lavender, violet, purple and blue all seem to be blue. Green,
beige and brown are indistinguishable from each other. Red and
black are often the same in different lights.
A Japanese man devised a series of plates in 1917 which are
now the basis of all tests for color blindness. There are a
series of circles, which are filled with a background of grey
dots, with varying digit patterns in different color dots
imposed on the background. Underneath each pattern he writes
which digit a normal sighted person can see, and which digit
people with varying degrees of color blindness can see. For
example, he may write "People with normal vision will see a 2,
some others (there are different names for the different kinds
and degrees of color blindness) will see a 7 and some will see
no number at all." Several people who had access to this book
have discovered that they had been color blind all their
lives, without being aware of it!
Most opticians are equipped with Ishihara's tests, but
kindergarten teachers are not. They do not realize the
implications in the everyday world. Even if they have learned
about the subject in theory, they do not really know what is
involved. Bus companies that display bright red numbers on
a black background disregard the fact that numerous passengers
are unable to read the numbers at all.
The next article will discuss everyday experiences of the
color blind, and bring some examples of true stories which
happened to color blind children or adults. There are also
some experimental `cures' or rather, aids, which seem to help
color blind people see colors for the first time in their
Anyone interested in this subject will find books in any
library which do not just scratch the surface but give all the
names of the varying degrees of color blindness. Ishihara's
tests are also available from some libraries.