David Holub

The questions I get most about being color blind ... answered!

Ever since first grade, I’ve known I was color blind. I’d been sent alone to the nurse, who administered dot-pattern tests – which I apparently failed – to get the diagnosis. Why I was initially referred to the nurse, I don’t know. Perhaps during coloring time I made the grass brown and my teacher either assumed my father needed to water our lawn more often, or I had some issues with ye olde rods and cones. Ever since, I have tried to explain to the sympathetic what color blindness is, how I experience the world, and how I cope with my sad existence. Here are the questions I get most often:

What does the world look like to you, color blind guy?From reading about color blindness, seeing side-by-side comparisons of what I see and what you see, and from comparing notes and pondering color-seeing in all its forms, I’ve come up with this: On one hand, my color spectrum is more limited. Think of a box of crayons. Yours is a set of 64 with the cool crayon sharpener built into the side of the box, and you see 64 distinct colors. If I got that same box, I’d get 64 crayons, but 25 of them would look similar to others.

I also see colors less vibrantly than you. Think of how the light is at that early-evening magic hour on a sun-soaked summer evening as the sun starts to sink: Saturated and lush. Now think of the light on an overcast day – dull and monochromatic. All things being equal, compared to me, your world is always like that magic hour. Mine, comparatively, is gloomy and overcast.

So, you don’t see in black and white?No. Because I’m not a dog. But I suppose those people do exist out there somewhere. And I thought my color existence was bad. Poor saps.

Then what kind of color blind are you?According to a vigorous test at enchroma.com, I’m a strong deutan (I’ve never been a strong anything!). They report: “Deutans are people with deuteranomaly, a type of red-green color blindness in which the green cones do not detect enough green and are too sensitive to yellows, oranges and reds. As a result, greens, yellows, oranges, reds, and browns may appear similar, especially in low light. It can also be difficult to tell the difference between blues and purples, or pinks and grays.” No wonder Deuteronomy was always my favorite book in the Bible.

Color blind. Sounds like an offensive term if you ask me, no?Right? Yeah, the preferred term these days is “color deficient.” I think the word “blind” was confusing and misleading for you color-seeing folks. Hence the dog comparisons.

So what color is this thing I’m pointing at?Depending on the color, I may answer correctly and you’ll say that I’m not so color blind after all. If it’s a color that falls in my circle of deficiency, I may be able to narrow it down to, say, red or orange, orange or yellow, blue or purple, brown or green, etc. Having a different color next to it can help. I usually will know what it is not. If something is dark purple, I will not mistake it for yellow, for instance.

How else are you weird?When a single color is isolated, I have very little color information circulating through my brain. I call it “color confidence,” which I sometimes lack, just like regular confidence. This usually happens with drab colors like light browns or greens. I look at the color ... and get nothing. I know the color generally, but it could be almost anything and my brain hurts and let’s stop this experiment right now.

I liken it to people who have perfect pitch. A person with perfect pitch can have their back to someone sitting at a piano. They play a note and without seeing it, the other person can identify the note, like it has an identity attached to the sound waves. D-sharp. B-flat. G-minor. This is how you experience color. You look at the color and it registers in your brain as that color immediately. With certain colors and shades, that information is not there for me. Put other colors around it – more notes on the scale – and I have a better chance of identifying it correctly.

Aren’t there special glasses that would put an end to this?There sure are. But they don’t work on the specific affliction I have. I took a test at the website of one of the companies that sells them, and after an extensive Q&A and dot pattern tests, they tell me – this company looking to sell glasses, mind you – essentially, “Our color blind glasses don’t work on people like you.” A few months back, a fellow color blind friend who’d just received a pair of these glasses and had seen the world differently ever since let me try them. Nothing happened. I wiped my tears off the glasses with my shirt and handed them back to her.

How do you even know normal people see the same colors?Stop making this about you. Look, I don’t know. Ask a scientist. And ask them about better color blind glasses while you’re at it.