Less Color, More Problems

February 26, 2022

Being colorblind can affect a lot more than just driving, it can affect your whole future—such as jobs. Sophomore Jake Anderson, who is afflicted with red-green colorblindness, said “I do [automotive] races in my spare time, and green lights aren’t actually green for me, so it makes life a little harder.”

Certain jobs will not allow a person to work for them if they can’t see colors correctly. Chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineers all require color coordination because a lot of wiring and electronic parts like resistors are color-coded. Same scenario with an air pilot, as they have to distinguish certain colors and identify signals. Colorblindness similarly limits certain individuals from some types of military service (like the Air Force) while some specialty jobs actively seek people with certain types of colorblindness that allow them to see camouflaged soldiers easier. Those wanting to be doctors may be limited by colorblindness as they need to see color to treat and diagnose, while an aspiring police officer may be unable to describe a crime scene or what someone was wearing. A graphic designer, web designer, chef, interior decorator, painter– all of these jobs require precision in choosing colors and it can be hard if not impossible to achieve success in those fields whilst having colorblindness.

While student futures could clearly be impacted by colorblindness, most teachers feel it isn’t an issue in their classes. Mrs. Melissa Calderon, an art teacher at Frederick, told us that it wasn’t an issue in art, as”we can do adaptive stuff. There’s a lot of famous artists that are colorblind.”

This is true: Claude Monet suffered from tritanopia late in life, and because he couldn’t see shades of blue, his paintings became more red and yellow. While he couldn’t see color like he used to, he still made beautiful art that hangs in museums today.

Ms. Megan LeSage, another art teacher, agreed: “I don’t think it necessarily affects students. Everyone experiences the world differently, and everyone is going to see it through their own unique perspective. I’ve heard people tell me they’re colorblind but it’s never been an issue.”

This is the first of a series of 12 paintings that Claude Monet made of the Japanese footbridge. “Water Lilies and Japanese Footbridge 1899” has a balance of reds, greens, and blues that look balanced and true to life. (Wikimedia Commons)
Monet finished his last of the series in 1922 after he developed tritanopia. The blues are almost totally absent, with the greens becoming bright yellow and the color red prominent. His vision problems inspired Monet to say, “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” (Wikimedia Commons)

However, there is a wrinkle to this story: Monet had cataract surgery to alleviate his colorblindness, as he felt it limited his artistry. While he adapted to his condition–he labeled all his paints with the name of the color–he still felt that his colorblindness made his life harder. This is the common issue with colorblindness–so many students don’t know they are colorblind, and so many teachers either don’t ask if students can see color or feel that it’s not a big issue.

“It makes working onstage really difficult,” Mr. Brandon Coon said when we asked him about students with colorblindness. Mr. Coon teaches technical theatre at Frederick, and he openly discussed how past students with colorblindness have struggled in his classes.

“In theatre, color is communication. We use colored tape called spike tape to mark where things go onstage at certain points in a show, as technicians don’t talk when onstage to keep the audience from noticing them. If a student can’t differentiate the colors, they can move something where it shouldn’t be. At best, it will jar the audience out of the show when the lights come up and something’s not right. At worst, an actor could trip over set they weren’t expecting to be in their way and break their leg.”

While backstage theatre is known for being as black and dark as possible, Mr. Coon showed us how much color plays into theatre design, from paint to shades of makeup to spools of sewing thread. “Every color communicates a feeling to the audience, whether they realize it or not.” Mr. Coon said. “Red makes people think of anger, blue makes people think of sadness. A student with colorblindness can memorize a list of those connotations, but it gets complicated when we add light.”

While we think of light as white, stage light is often colored with sheets of plastic called gels. These lights are colored because they make a set seem more natural or because they set a mood. However, everything on stage also has color, and when two colors mix, it can create a new undesired color.

“We usually have blue light onstage to make it look like night. Let’s say an actor comes out in a bright red shirt. Guess what–the shirt is no longer red; it’s either brown or black depending on how dark the blue light is. This color mixing is vexing for students with normal eyesight–it was maddening for the students I’ve had who had colorblindness. They end up communicating the wrong messages to the audience than they intended.”

He told us that, in his experience, students with colorblindness would either get very frustrated, not speak up out of embarrassment, have others do I’ll their work, or quit their interest in lighting, painting, and other jobs that use color a lot and moved to jobs that seldom use color lie building and sound. “We make it work,” Mr. Coon said, “but I’ve had a handful of students who just gave up because it’s hard to see the world in a way that you can’t understand. I do what I can to help, but it can be difficult to make students reframe limitations as challenges when a show is in two days and it’s taking them an hour to figure out something a student without colorblindness could solve in five minutes.”

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