Making People See Colorblindness

February 26, 2022

So, what can be done to prevent colorblindness? Not much, really. There is still no cure for colorblindness: despite extensive testing among other species of animals where genetic colorblindness has been cured, none have been allowed to move onto human trials. There are lenses and glasses that can help aid certain types of colorblindness by increasing color contrast, but most are hundreds of dollars and may not work best for those with prescription glasses.  If a person develops colorblindness due to a condition or disease, addressing the condition or illness can sometimes cure the colorblindness, though sometimes the damage to the eye and its nerves is permanent.

So if we cannot cure colorblindness, we need to make our school and community more colorblind-friendly. Now, we shouldn’t just make everything black and white and gray, but there are steps we could take as a school to make sure that students with colorblindness have the same access as others. Here are some ideas:

  • Make handouts on white paper, not colored paper: The best way to help students with colorblindness is to increase color contrast so they can tell the difference between shades. The ultimate contrast is black on white, so making sure that students with colorblindness get black-and-white handouts instead of those on colored paper helps significantly.
  • Change the screen setting: What if you run a paperless classroom? Students with colorblindness can still struggle with contrast on an iPad or a cell phone screen. To help them, show them how to go into their settings and change the color filter in their display or activate “Differentiate without colors,” which adds symbols to help someone navigate without needing to see color.
  • Write in black or a dark color on a whiteboard instead of using light-colored markers: While using colored markers may make instructions easier to follow for most students, students with poor vision or colorblindness have difficulty telling light colors from the light whiteboard, especially if there is a glare. By sticking to black, dark blue, dark green, purple, and dark red colors. teachers can make sure their writing can be easily read by all students.
  • Mark dark surfaces with light colors: By the same token, any darker surface should be marked off with a light color so students with colorblindness can see them. On the black stage of the auditorium, a music teacher should mark things with light-colored tape. Out on the field, a coach should mark the grass with white chalk instead of yellow or orange (which don’t always stand out against the green of the grass).
  • Write out the names of colors if they are relevant to instruction: Teachers often use colors to simplify instruction–“Grab the blue book on my desk,” “Fill out the pink sheet,” “Click on the blue button that says send.” While coding is very helpful to the average student, it can be very challenging for a student with colorblindness. A simple solution is for teachers to label the color on the item whenever they can to help students who can’t differentiate the color but can differentiate the name.
A test question from Mr. Coon’s Beginning Stage Tech Class that is specifically written to be colorblind-friendly. “I had a colorblind roommate when I first started teaching,” Mr. Coon told us. “He was a smart guy, but one day he couldn’t follow a mind map I made for sixth-graders–that’s when I learned he was red-green colorblind.” That encounter made Mr. Coon consider how to make his assignments accessible to colorblind students. “We need to teach everyone, no matter what challenges they face,” he said. (Courtesy of Brandon Coon)
  • Make sure supplies are labeled with words, not just colors: Similarly, teachers should make sure that colored pencils, paints, markers, and other supplies that require different colors have the name of the color clearly written on them. Teachers should also (within reason) use whatever colors they would like and can differentiate–if they need to color a map for geography, they may not be able to see the difference between the blue water and green land, so allow them to color the land purple and the water yellow if it helps them see better.
  • Film your class in black and white: If a teacher really wants to see if their classroom is colorblind-friendly, they should ask a teacher friend to record an entire class they teach on their iPad. That teacher can then watch the video and see how often they reference color and, with the application of a black-and-white filter, they can see what parts of their classroom are hard to navigate with monochromatic eyes.
  • Make sure colorblindness is found and documented: The hardest part of colorblindness in students is, as I’ve discussed, that not all students with colorblindness know that they have the condition. While the annual school eye exams check vision, they do not necessarily look at colorblindness. So students should start by taking a simple online test to see if they may have a problem with their vision, like this one by EnChroma. While these tests are not the same as a medical diagnosis, they can indicate if a student should get their eyes checked out. If colorblindness is diagnosed, the student and their parent should have it documented by the school on a 504 plan so all teachers know and can help that student.
  • Teach students about colorblindness: Finally, teachers can talk to their students about colorblindness as a condition and how we can help those we know who have colorblindness with everyday activities that involve color, like coordinating outfits or safety cooking meals. If a teacher does talk to their students, they should make sure not to call out any individuals who may have the condition and they should use person-first language (student with colorblindness, not colorblind student). By talking to students openly about their condition, we can make the school a place where students can be open about their condition and be more comfortable seeking help.
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