Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Survival Tips for Traveling and Living with the Color Blind

We just got home from vacation and vacation posts are long overdue. However...I really needed to write this  funny survival guide that has been bouncing around my head for years now.

My husband is color blind, or more exactly, color deficient. He can see just fine.  He can see colors too, but he can't always tell the differences between colors. He does not just see 50 Shades of Grey! And yes, more than one person has asked him that. They test for colorblindness in schools these days, but apparently not in 70's since he didn't learn that he was colorblind until he joined the Navy.  Since my trip made me realize how little the average person knows about colorblindness, I suggest that everyone read this ammmazing book by Oliver Sachs called The Island of the Colorblind which is about a Micronesian island of Pingelap where there are people who are completely colorblind (called achromatopsia), and do see the world in shades of grey.  This is actually a serious condition that comes with a lot of difficulties (including incredible light sensitivity and difficulty focusing your eyes) and is incredibly rare. It is really a fascinating read, and taught us so much.  If nothing else, click on the link and read the editorial reviews to get some understanding of the condition.

When we first met and he explained his colorblindness, we came across this website (go there now or this will make no sense to you!) showing pictures of how someone with color deficiency sees things verses what I see. It really was eye opening (no pun intended) because without looking very very hard at the pictures, they all looked the same to him, but incredibly different to me.  On one level, it made me profoundly sad that he would never see the deep green saturation of the green grass with bright red flowers, that he has no idea what color my eyes are (even if he says they are the most beautiful he's ever seen), and that I had to learn to cook meat (more on that), but he sees things in a way I'd never imagined because he has had to create coping mechanisms to deal with this disability.

When looking at a green tree that most people would say, "Oh look a pretty green tree," he sees the shades of green as distinct 'colors' and analyses the parts of the whole.  In computer programming terms (cause I'm cool and geeky like that), we look at the object as a whole, while he is analyzes the individual classes that make up the object.  He has created some really interesting techniques for overcoming his color blindness, but like being left handed, society hasn't adapted many techniques that would make it easier for colorblind people to fully interact with their environments.

I joke with my husband that I need to write a survival guide for living with the here it is. Everything in this list has happened to us, and funny things keep happening as we forget that we see things just a little different.  These differences have made us stronger as a couple, more understanding of differences, and made me a better cook.   Enjoy, and comment with your own stories!

Found here

When traveling or living with the colorblind:

1. Do not ask them to read a Google map with traffic overlays of red (stopped) yellow (slow) and green (normal) because they can't see the red and green any different than the background color, and  just wonder why there are occasional gaps in traffic (the yellow).  First he was confused, then he got really grouchy when he realized a program was written relying wholly on color.

2. Do not get them addicted to any game that involves matching color for Bejeweled.  It's sort of sad to watch him play, because he has to do it entirely by the shape and it takes forever.

3. Do not ask them what they 'don't understand about a warm pink center' when they once again overcook your steak. THEY CAN'T SEE PINK.  (This one took about a year for me to realize).

4. Don't ask them what they can't see...duh, they can't see it! People ask him this all the time.

5. If they are red/green color deficient (like my husband) Don't ask them "how can you drive, since traffic lights are red and green?" The lights are in the same place each time, and they look at the light placement, not the color! When playing Rock Band he doesn't look at the colors of the buttons that come up either, but rather the placement.

6. Don't look at them sadly and tell them what they are missing.  You will get punched, and deserve it. I deserve to be punched. He didn't know what he was missing until I pointed it out.

7. Don't ask them to drive in the city where the traffic lights are on the sides of the road. It's a mean mean trick since they look like tail lights.

8. Don't ask them if they see everything in grey...seriously, people.

9. Don't buy socks in multiple colors (brown, dark blue, black) and laugh when they can't match their socks's mean.  Don't question why they have 10 shirts of the same brand in varying colors and 5 pairs of neutral pants. It just makes getting dressed easier. Also, if a shirt stains their underarms...please tell them, because they'll never be able to see it.

10. Don't ask them to do the laundry if there is anything red in it.  They can, and will manage to dye all of your clothing pink.  When my husband was in the Navy, he once had dress 'pinks' instead of whites.  I think they had a hard time actually punishing him for something that he literally couldn't see.

11. Don't point out that the color that they've worn for the last decade and love and thought was actually purple.  Finding this out involved a rather embarrassing exchange over cat collars in a pet store two years ago.  I thought it was awesome that he liked purple (my favorite color) so it broke my heart a little to realize he had such a hard time telling it apart from blue.

12. Don't highlight your hair red and feel sad when they can't see it.  Or wonder why they like goth makeup or bright pink stripes in hair. It's what they can easily see.  In bright light, he can see my highlights, but normally it's a no go.

13. Don't take them peach picking where the COLOR (pale pink/yellowish) is the determination of whether or not to pink the fruit.  While my husband did wonderfully at this, it was slow, annoying and incredibly difficult for him to determine which were ripe enough to pick.

14. Don't let them go through the leftover paint to fix spots on walls unless the color variant is very large.  It won't end well if you have pale colored walls.

15. Don't be vain about your blue eyes.  When you ask the man that you love what color your eyes are, he'll answer with "I don't know, but they are the most beautiful I've ever seen," with a note of panic in their eyes. That...was humbling.


1. Ask them to describe how they see something. "What colors do you see in the sunset?"

2. Do ask them to explain why two colors look different! People who aren't colorblind won't really have an answer for this. Colors just look...different. He can tell you exactly what color is missing to make something a little different because he has to work at it.

3. Buy a meat thermometer.  This has saved my marriage, and dinner on so many occasions.

4. Dye/highlight your hair for yourself, not your spouses approval.

5. Paint your toenails so bright and happy colors, he'll appreciate it.  By bright, I mean red and aquamarine. Not some shiny pale pink. He can't see that at all.

6. Do all of the laundry, it avoids awkward conversations later about why all of your white face cloths are now pink.

7. Continue to make games with 'color blind' settings that change the colors of the pieces into ones more easily seen by people with color deficiencies (there are many different types of colorblindness!)

8. Learn! Learn about what colorblindness is, and put yourself in someone else's shoes for a day.

9. Gently (not patronizingly) attempt to explain what colors YOU see things as. An example would be the cat collar; "I see this one as more purple because there is more red in it, this is more blue."

10. Understand that 'shades' of colors are really hard to see differences and pale colors are impossible to make out.

I've learned a lot about colorblindness throughout my marriage, and will continue to learn more.  It's a really interesting topic and one that constantly challenges us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.  Are you colorblind? What experiences have you had? Do you have any more do's and don't's to add to the list?


  1. I feel like such a heel because I was frustrated over Aaron not understanding the shades of color I was trying to describe to him when he was here. I wish I had these helpful hints before you came to visit but you know what I probably still wouldn't have understood. I am so sorry if I made him feel bad about not understanding what I was trying to describe. It wasn't fair of me to try and get him to understand something he has no way of seeing.
    Thank you for this information.
    By the way it was great to see you and meet Aaron. He is a special person and I am so glad that he is my nephew-in-Love. He is perfect for you.
    Love you very much

  2. Ricki--it's not a problem. He didn't even tell me about it. Seriously though, he needs to learn to tell people that he has color deficiency issues so they don't describe which cable needs to go where. seriously...

  3. Some people have issues with the Captcha preventing them from posting, so I'll manually add those posts:

    Mani Pureheart (my father in law)
    "Very well done and nicely presented. Thank you!"

  4. Make sure you ask your students if they are color blind and let them work with a partner when doing titrations....since the point is to add just enough to achieve the LIGHTEST color change possible, a color blind person will never be able to see it at the change and overshoot the endpoint every time.

    Okay, maybe that one is a bit context specific for chemistry students, but still, it's one I've learned! :-)

  5. Well said! Might I add that if you know the person can't see colors, use different directions - not the blue door but the 3rd door on the right.
    Had an interesting experience with Husband this weekend - I put a zip up jacket into the laundry and he announced that he had washed 'your purple zip up'. I don't own a purple zip up and then realized what he was referring to. The zip up is red (actually maroon), the same color as his pickup truck. You have started me thinking he might have some form of color deficiency as colors have been a minor issue over the years and it could explain a few things.
    Love you much, Aunty K

  6. I'm not sure if my last post went through, but this one's worth another try! I LOVE your attitude about color blindness. I wrote a book called ALL ABOUT COLOR BLINDNESS: A GUIDE TO COLOR VISION DEFICIENCY FOR KIDS (AND GROWN-UPS TOO, and it won a Mom's Choice Award (Yeah!). It all started when I found out my son has CVD and it just rolled from there. Could I please post your post on my website and facebook page? I think it would help a lot of people. Made me feel good to read it!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed! Share it anywhere you'd like, just please cite my blog so traffic can come back here. I'd love a link to your article too!

    2. Great. You will be cited!

      My link is

      The book is here:

    3. Posted on Facebook!

  7. Great post! I shared this with my wife once so she understands things a little better. My children are very aware their old man has "problems" with colors. My son (older than daughter) often helps me when I have to pick out bows for my daughter's hair or she wants the gray pants with pink hearts in them (really, who designed those?!?). Of course, as my daughter becomes more verbal, she picks up on it, too...though in a different and less helpful way. The other day she finally complied with a request and put her pink jacket in her closet asserting, "I'll put it in a place only I can find, even colorblind people won't find it!" Funny!

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