How Colorblindness Works

What the Colorblind Can Do

Color pleases us aesthetically and serves as a visual clue, but do we really need it? It's a question worth thinking about.

When an architect thinks about designing a building, he or she ensures that it's accessible to people with wheelchairs and tries to make allowances for people's handicaps. Does anyone take the colorblind into account?

Perhaps since it's not a condition that's visible (only visual), people have a hard time understanding it. And after all, you can't explain how you see. How would you explain green to someone who's never seen it? You could try to do it with verbal descriptions or with music, but it wouldn't be the same.

There are daily frustrations for people who are colorblind. They may have a limited color palette in their wardrobes, to avoid showing up on a first date in a bright purple shirt and mismatched pants. For a kid, crayons without labels are pretty much useless. Most frustrating, perhaps, is listening to other people talk about beautiful, colorful things and not being able to see them.

Colorblindness can also be an obstacle to certain careers. If you've seen "Little Miss Sunshine" (spoiler alert if you haven't), a boy's dreams of becoming a pilot are abruptly dashed when he realizes he's colorblind. It's true -- you can't be a pilot if you're colorblind. There are too many signals to catch that rely on color to keep other people safe. You might also have trouble being an electrician (matching color-coded wires), and a woman at a salon might not want you coloring her hair. If you search the Internet for colorblindness and careers, you'll come up with a whole list of can'ts.

But let's take graphic design. You might immediately write that off as a career for the colorblind. But not so fast. First of all, a good Web site design won't rely just on colors to highlight important elements. The designer will use other elements to set off the things that are most important -- different fonts, contrast. Second, colors on the Internet correspond to hexadecimal values. Blue isn't written in code as "blue" -- instead, it's #0000FF. So someone who's colorblind could potentially keep in mind the color wheel and remember which numbers match with which colors.

If you'd like to learn more about colorblindness, color vision and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

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