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Color Blindness: Not just Black and White

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Millions of people are color-blind, but it’s not always easy. What is life like when you can’t see colors normally?

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

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The word “blind” might sound pretty scary, but when it comes to the millions of people all over the world who are color-blind, you don’t have to worry. They can still see perfectly well, and in fact, most of them can actually see some colors! But that doesn’t mean being color-blind is always easy. What is life like when you can’t see colors normally?

Yosef Chaim, now 15, never knew there was anything different about the way he saw the world. He figured all the kids around him were seeing exactly what he saw.

But even when he was very young, his mother suspected something was wrong. In kindergarten, she and his teachers noticed that he made little mistakes, like coloring in a picture of challah green. Sometimes, using unusual colors just means a child likes being creative, but it could also mean he or she is color-blind.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to test for color blindness. Doctors usually use a picture made up entirely of dots. The background dots are one color, and dots in another color form a number or shape. If you can see colors, you’ll recognize the shape.

That’s how Yosef Chaim found out he was red-green color-blind.

 

Three Kinds of Color Blindness

There are three general types of color blindness: red-green color blindness, the most common type, blue-yellow color blindness, and complete color blindness, which is very rare.

People like Yosef Chaim, with red-green color blindness, can’t tell the difference between shades of red and green — like a ripe red apple hanging in a green tree, or green basil leaves and red tomato sauce on a pizza. He sees all those colors as shades of grayish brown.

If your pizza arrived covered in gray-brown blotches, you’d probably send it back, but for red-green color-blind people, it’s just a fact of life, like eating gray-brown apples or watermelon.

Blue-yellow color blindness is similar, except people with this condition see blue and yellow shades as gray or brown. Within each of the three categories, there are specific types that can be diagnosed by an eye doctor. 

Like Yosef Chaim, most people are diagnosed as color-blind in childhood when a parent or teacher suspects there’s a problem. Sometimes, girls don’t get tested because some people believe girls can’t be color-blind. That’s not actually true, though not as many girls are actually affected.

Certainly, color blindness is far more common in boys and men. Your chances of being born color-blind also depend where in the world your family comes from. About 6 percent of Caucasian (European) boys and men are color-blind, while only 0.5 percent of women are. Only 3 percent of Asian men are color-blind, while only 2 percent of African-American men are.

Color blindness is genetic, meaning that it is passed down in families, in this case on the mother’s side. In fact, one reason Yosef Chaim’s mother suspected that he might be color-blind is because her father is. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 722)

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