My Color Blind Manifesto



My new GPS watch lay in its beautiful packaging.  It was one of the leading name brands in GPS devices, and its black, round, rugged face looked back at me, telling me to rip the box apart and to start running, biking, hiking, swimming, skiing and to jump into every sport the watch was designed to monitor. Heck, it was so fancy it might even have measured curling.  I dunno, but it was purty fancy I can tell you.

It was an expensive gift to myself, which started with a watch my wife gave me for Christmas but wasn’t waterproof, so I exchanged it for one that was.  That new watch did just about everything I wanted it to except make toast in the morning.  But it couldn’t be worn as a day watch and the casing broke, so it had to be returned.  Then I started looking at watches once again, trying to find one that I could wear during the day, was waterproof, and had features which would allow me to track steps and any exercise I might talk myself into, now and again.

Now, this mythical watch was just sitting there, waiting to become a part of my daily life. I charged ‘er up, took ‘er for a walk, and said “This is good”.

That night, I turned the lights off and went to sleep dreaming of checking my time, distance, and elevation change after an arduous trek over mountain trails.

During the night I woke up, disoriented, and pushed the button on my new watch that would light ‘er up so I could see what time I was.

I could read…nothing.  Nothing.

The watch lit up at night using the color red.

Now, for most folks red is bright, a beacon.  Highly noticeable, easily distinguished.

Not me.

Red is my kryptonite.  My visual Achilles’ heel.  The Scarlett to my Rhett.

You see, I am red-green color blind.  Born that way, as I think those of us who are color blind all are.

As disabilities go, it’s so minor compared to those that are major that I seldom think about it these days, but here’s the deal.

When you make a watch that uses any kind of colors, I suggest testing it with color blind people.

I took the watch back.

When you give an electronic presentation, do the same.

Sometimes I can’t read a word you have in your slides. If you are using one of those red laser-pointers to highlight something – Fugeddaboutit.

If you have children, make sure they are tested for color blindness.  I’m convinced one of the reasons I was so shy in elementary school, almost being held back a grade, was because every other kid knew how to color the rabbits and the vegetables.  The way my folks discovered I was color blind was when they noticed I couldn’t see strawberries in a garden.

Being laughed at by others in your class when young can kinda leave a mark.

Color blindness, as I said, can have major impacts on folks, their potential careers, and their feelings about themselves.  I’ve gone to work with different-colored socks, heck even different-colored shoes.  I am used to being corrected when I tell someone how beautiful their green shirt is (“You mean this red shirt?”).  It wouldn’t be all that smart of me to try to pick out the right electrical wire to cut if, like James Bond, I was trying to save the world from a nuclear bomb ticking down at Fort Knox.

But, to be honest, I’ve adapted, and for a long time now have – I think – a good, self-deprecating, sense of humor about it. I know I’m going to get some things wrong, just as a matter of course.

The only part that bothers me much these days is that I know I can’t describe colors accurately when I write.  I usually must double check with someone to see if the orange sign I am describing is really orange, if the apple is really green.

There, you have it.  It’s been self-limiting, too, because I would never be bold enough to write something like, “For the first time in my life I noticed the gradation of colours before sunrise—from indigo through apricot to a lapidary blueness”, as Sara Maitland (2009, p. 16) does.  Taking away colors leaves me with shades of gray.

Which would be fine, folks have done a lot with just that, except I love colors.  I am only moderately color blind, I can see colors, just not as well or as accurately as others.  In the past I have self-censored my writing about colors because there was no assurance that what I was seeing was “right”.

But that stops now.

Because, really, how does anyone know that they are seeing the same thing as anyone else? We all see, alone, what we see, feel what we feel, taste what we taste, smell what we smell, and hear what we hear. Who is to say which is the “right” perception?

So, I am going to express colors in the ways I see them.  This is a heads up for anyone reading my work. You may see things differently than I do, but then, we all have our lenses for this or for that, don’t we?

My Color Blind Manifesto




For some of the skinny on Color Blindness, check this out:


Maitland, S. (2009). A book of silence. Berkeley, Calif.: Counterpoint: Distributed by Publishers Group West.

Colored socks II

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