Colorblind Isn’t Black and White

imageThe first indication that I had a problem with color vision was during a physical exam for my first job out of college. My eye doctor completed the exam and filled out the form that I had to return to Burroughs Corp. “Vision: 20/20 with corrective lenses. Colorblind” Whaaaaat?

You exhibit symptoms of colorblindness, primarily red-green.”

What does that mean?

It means you don’t see certain colors well enough to distinguish them from other colors.

How can you tell?

Those slides I had you look at, they had numbers in them. You didn’t see them. There are better tests, but this should suffice for a pre-employment physical.”

Those slides being the things that look like mutant strains of bacteria growing in a petri dish. I could see plenty of colors, what could the dish know? Now I was worried that I would lose my job because of a condition that I never knew I had?

Apparently, I was still fit for duty. I got the job.

It turns out all employees working at one of their manufacturing plants had to take that test. I was going to be a programmer-analyst, it didn’t matter what colors I saw; the text on the monitor was a single dreary shade of green. Other employees could not be colorblind because the equipment they operated used different color lights to indicate stuff.

I am reminded every day that I would stink at a job like that. I arrive at work about the time that the main doors to the building unlock. Most people entering the building glance at the card reader on the wall and instantly know whether or not they have to swipe their card. There’s an LED. If it’s red, the doors are locked. If I’m not lucky enough to follow one of those folks in, I have to go swipe my card. Oh, sometimes I go up and yank on the locked door, but usually, I swipe the card.

The first definitive measure of how much/little color I see came early in the PC era. If you’re old enough to remember when computer monitors went through the CGA-EGA-VGA transition, this will make sense to you. If not, you might have to spend some time on Google or just mutter “yeah, yeah whatever grandpa…”

When we made the serious investment in an EGA Graphics card and monitor (about $500), I couldn’t wait to see the difference. I opened a color image and kept zooming in to see the fine color gradations. I stopped at about 800%, when each pixel was about ¼” square. My wife asked me if that was as far as it went. I told her no, I had stopped because I had zoomed into the point where all the pixels were the same color. She pointed (literally) to the many different colors still discernable and said” “I guess this is as good a monitor as you’ll ever need.

Perhaps the funniest color mistake I made was in buying a tie. Back in the early ‘80s, I had a Tattersall dress shirt that I loved. The lines in the shirt were red and blue. I mostly wore that shirt with a solid gray suit or a solid khaki suit. One day, while shopping at lunch, I spied the perfect tie. It had wide gray and khaki stripes. Each wide stripe was bordered by a thin blue line within two narrow red lines. It was like they made that tie just for me.

As I was checking out, the saleswoman looked at me and asked:

Are you planning to wear this tie with that suit?

“Yes! It’s perfect because I only wear this shirt with this suit and with a khaki one and this tie will go with both!

She looked at me funny and said: “OK then” and rang up the sale.

I told my wife about my great find. She sounded skeptical. When I got home and showed her the tie, she pointed out that the “gray” stripes were, in fact, lavender.

I wore it anyway. I look adorable in lavender.

A nearly very costly color error on my part happened about 10 years ago at work. I was responsible for our network equipment, aided by technicians from an outside firm. Those guys would come in about once a month and apply updates and fix any problems we had. One day, the tech went into our server room and quickly returned to my office.

Why didn’t you tell me about the drives?

What drives?

The dead drives. Two of your servers have dead drives in the storage array. You are running without RAID protection.

How do you know the drives are dead?”

The LEDs are red.”

I am getting some help these days from technology. First, I have a color App for my iPhone. Using the camera, I can point to a shirt/tie/sock and be given the precise color. There are many of these, I use ColorDetect.

The other benefit technology is providing is from companies that recognize that about 8% of males are colorblind. Many companies are adding colorblind options to their software and websites. Trello, the organizer I talked about a few posts ago allows you to identify related tasks using labels. The labels are color-coded but they have a colorblind mode which adds stripes. The labels kind of look like that tie I bought, but at least I can quickly identify them.

71 thoughts on “Colorblind Isn’t Black and White

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  1. LOL @ “adorable in lavender.”
    Anyway, that’s so interesting. Long ago, The Mister mentioned to me that he was colorblind enough not to be an electrician or work ordnance. I found that surprising, and it wasn’t until we were married that I realized he is. And it’s NOT as simple as red and green or brown and orange. He thought my eyes were green (blue). He thinks our sofa is green (gray). But the kicker was when he thought my alexandrite was blue (green in sunlight, purple in artificial light). Very odd. So I know it’s subtle, and I guess it’s good that his job isn’t dependent on color.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, matching up wires is awful. Periodically, I have had to repair network wiring. The tiny wires are green, orange, red and brown. There’s a solid wire and a striped in each color. I cannot distinguish brown/orange or the green striped wire and anything. I used to give people directions telling them that our house was orange (tan). When I resided it, we went with gray. I’m glad you understand. Thanks as always for the comment.


    1. She let me wear the tie. She usually stands guard in the kitchen to inspect my combinations before I leave. It’s not much of a problem these days, casual dress and all but back when I was wearing ties and trying to “jazz up a dull suit” she was active. She sent me back to the closet a few times with “that shirt or that tie…not both.” Thanks for reading Jill.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I covered color blindness in perceptual psychology, and was fascinated then. Your personal account just adds to my interest. I am glad technology stepped in, and I love the tie. I’m sure lavender looks nice on you!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a weird problem to have, at least at the level I am affected. I see plenty of colors, but there is an apparent problem. I’ve known men who were more profoundly colorblind, including an uncle who could only identify traffic lights by going top vs bottom. I got a ticket in Ohio back in the ’60s because their stop lights were mounted horizontally and he couldn’t figure it out. I think it’s harder for someone like him who knows that he’s missing something. For me, it’s more a case of ignorance is bliss. Thanks for the comment Elizabeth.


    1. I am good with traffic lights Lois, but I’m not so good at knowing if a toll lane is open unless they use the signs that say “open” and “closed.” There’s also a light at the Springfield, MA exit of the MA Pike that is hard to figure out because it’s directly in front of the lane, not suspended overhead. Fortunately, the red light has an outer ring that flashes. Maybe ‘adorable’ was too strong (but I liked that tie).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hub is color-blind, too. Not quite to the degree you are but he can’t tell a green from a blue from a gray house. Now that I think of it, he probably can’t see lavendar either. Guess he won’t know how adorable you look!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For that matter, I don’t know if I look adorable or not. I still think the tie is gray :) Lot’s of things appear gray to me that are somewhere between blue and gray. Lighting conditions affect my perception as well and so do contrasting elements like black shutters on a blue house. I’m guessing you don’t let hub pick out the furniture or the curtains. Thanks for the comment Sammy.


      1. I’m guessing you slipped this post by your usual editor who never would have allowed you to call yourself adorable no matter what color you were wearing or seeing 😋.

        On a serious note, though it is sad not to be able to enjoy the more subtle nuances of color. My guess is you compensate with some other firm of awareness.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My editor did let that pass. I’m not sure if she agrees though. Sometimes she give me some latitude to experiment with my “voice” in this blog.

          On the other hand, she might apply some red ink to your suggestion that I compensate with other awareness (or any awareness for that matter) but she’s lived with me for almost 32 years.

          I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I see a rich spectrum of color, even if some of them are “wrong” and I appreciate the beauty that I see. Thanks for the comment.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Are you sure we were not separated at birth? This hits so close to home on the same issues you present. I was always told I was color blind as a kid, and believed them. When I joined the USAF after high school, they gave me that color/dot/ball test. I was able to tell every number on every page, noting the doctor that they always told me I was color blind and was delighted to learn that I wasn’t because of my proficiency on his silly little test. Then he gave me the bad news – I was indeed color blind. With that test, or at least the one they gave me, you would see one set of numbers if you were color blind and a completely different set of numbers if you were not.

    I also have “clothes” story that people still remind of today . . . over fifty years later.

    After basic training I was going home for a few days . . . keep in mind I now knew I was color blind. As I went through the airport in Texas I decided to buy a cowboy hat . . my first one! I wore that hat all around Magoun Square in Somerville, where I had grown up and where people referred to me as the “good guy from Magoun Square” since it was mob-controlled and frequent hang out for Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang. After three days of walking around, and as I headed out to the airport and my first assignment in Italy – one of my friends quietly asked me, “why the hell would you come back here wearing a pink cowboy hat?”

    My type of color blindness, like you, did not allow them to assign me to electronics, mechanics or weaponry . . which turned out to be a major turning point in my life. After several tests, I was selected to join the USAF Intelligence Group that turned us into clandestine operators spying on Russia during the Cold War. And the rest, as they say, is history. And I’m still color blind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always heard that the good guys wear pink Bob. That’s funny. People are missing out on how funny that is if they are not aware of the fact that you’re pretty tall. You must have looked stunning in that pink cowboy hat. Electronics/electricity is something I’ve had problems with at work, as I have had to deal with more than my share of twisted pair cable. I learned to wire up a test kit to identify the pairs. You’re the third person to mention ordinance – I never thought of how badly that might end – “cut the blue wire Bob”. Thanks for sharing your story.


      1. In those days when we all wore suits to work, my employees could always tell when Mae was traveling. I would show up with a weird tie, or the wrong color socks and they would simply say, “Mae wasn’t home this morning Bob?” Good thing we were healthy kids, this could have been a traumatic part of our adult lives if we had not adjusted to it well.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s funny Bob. People would ask me if Muriel was sick sometimes when I would show up with the wrong socks. When I travel, I only took stuff that all went together, pre-approved of course. It’s another story for sure, but I think we were able to adjust to a lot of things that might give people a problem today. Maybe that’s just me being old.


  5. This was a fascinating read. My first husband was colorblind. Pea soup and peanut butter looked the same to him in terms of color. I think I remember him telling me he did traffic lights by position rather than trusting color. But I especially love your title–I had no idea that there was such a divergent range of manifestations. And who can object to lavender?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I mentioned in an earlier comment Deborah, I had an uncle who did traffic lights by position. Ohio was a problem as they hung the lights horizontally in the ’60s. I don’t think I have it too bad, but it leads to memorable mistakes and funny stories. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dan, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Your attitude to the whole thing, I think, is just marvellous. It also got me thinking about colour and about whether others see what I see, or if I see what others see. The lavender thing really made me laugh. Always look forward to your posts – such a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Is that circle at the top supposed to have a number in it? ’cause I don’t see one. I already know I’m colorblind (relatively rare in women, I know — sigh). I’m mostly okay, and I see red-green, but some blue/green, some brown/green, some orange/pink (?!) and probably some others are either indistinguishable or iffy. Thanks for the color app information! Now that the daughters are grown and gone, I have no fashionistas on staff to help me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is rare! You’re the first colorblind woman I think I’ve ever known about. I would expect that it’s harder for women with fashion as most men don’t look like they think about it anyway. The are other apps, some that might be better. The problem with this one is that it’s very precise, and colors aren’t monotone. The gray fleece that I included also shows white bits, cream, black and a few colors I’m sure I don’t know. Thanks for the comment.

      BTW, there is a number in the circle but I don’t know what it is.


  8. My brother has a mild case of colorblindness. He has trouble distinguishing some greens and blues. From what I’ve been told, this is the most typical level of colorblindness. He’s a perfectionist (I guess all are in my family) so he always takes someone shopping with him when picking out clothes. Green and red seems rather severe. Those two colors are pretty much opposite from each other, which would have you seeing all sorts of colors wrong. The world probably looks very different to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very strange Glynis. I do recognize red things and green things, but it depends a lot on size, lighting conditions and nearby contrasting elements. The LEDs are so bright, that I think they just overwhelm what capability I have. I dont’ often buy anything of questionable color without my wife. I love smart phones because I can send her a photo of something I like and she can txt back “um, that’s pink”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I got a kick out of the lavender tie, Dan. And to think technology now can tell you what color is what, well I think that is pretty darn cool. I LOVE to hear the positives about technology versus the negatives and when I heard this story of yours I wanted to shout YAY!!!!! Really enjoyed reading your post today! (((HUGS))) Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I wasn’t sure that you would write that 80% of men are colorblind! I’m glad you did because it’s kind of true.
    My husband describes my clothes in colors which are rarely the right ones. When we repaint a room at home, we talk of different shades, too. He’s not officially colorblind, but I still think that men and women don’t see colors in the exact same way. And that’s totally fine. Makes it fun and the topic of conversations. Or of a fun blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s only 8% Evelyne but you’re right, all men see colors differently than women. I don’t have a vote when it comes to painting, staining, siding, drapes and most of my clothes but my wife is a good sport. I have bought things for her, where I will use my phone to send my daughter a photo and make a selection. I did almost buy a pair of purple frames for my glasses – it was good that she stopped me from making that mistake.


  11. Dan, I don’t think there is a number in the circle. I think someone sneezed on it once. Or twice. Never suspected you were color blind. It will give me a new perspective when blogging. As for myself I am as near as I can tell not color blind. Except when it comes to wardrobe. One of my favorite ties is a white and grey on grey camo. Somehow my spouse seldom approves that one…. I will save the other wardrobe faux pas for another time. As well as the first pass at spelling faux pas. A great Friday chuckle. Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. Sometimes, I realize the trouble I have when I read your post and then look at the blossom and say “I’ll take John’s word for it” mostly when the flowers are in the purple-blue range since there aren’t many gray daylilies.


  12. I am very particular about my eye performance. I eat lots of carrots to ensure my eye sight is good and I can see things well. I get paranoid if I can’t see well. Not sure if I am colorblind, but sometimes I just get stuck with what I see…probably because my brain is dead tired.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have been wearing glasses since I was in 8th grade so I’m not overly concerned about the quality of my eyesight. I now wear “progressive” lenses and I’ve gotten used to tilting my head, removing my glasses and situating things so I can see well. Good luck on keeping your performance high Sharukh and thanks for the comment.


  13. I’m seeing options for colorbilnd people in GIS systems, as the ability to read a map can be greatly reduced if you use lots of shades of green (which we incidentally use…). Interesting to see a perspective we often miss.


    1. I’ve always loved topographical maps. In fact, I have a USGS Topo of Mt. Rainier hanging in the room I am in right now. I never had a problem understanding how the line spacing indicates altitude. What I like about some of the maps I’ve seen is the ability to keep things in layers and the trend toward giving the viewer control over those layers. One or two at a time, I can handle the shading. I may not see the correct color, but I can tell the difference in the shading. It’s when the colors start to blend into one that I lose the ability to understand the map. Thanks for the comment.


  14. You have me laughing here, Dan! It’s a good thing you look great in lavender 😄. Until reading your post, I’ve never given any thought to the way I see colors. The next time I have an eye exam (much later this year), I’ll ask about that the color test.
    So you don’t “see red”, that can be a good thing!
    How do you manage when those little red lights on the dash in your car show up?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Elaine. I see the lights. They may not seem red to me but I do see them. The problem is with LEDs that are either red or green or orange but it’s the same LED. I know that it’s lit, but I have to get very close to tell what color it is. Actually, I can almost never distinguish between orange and red. If car makers start using green/orange/red lights instead of a gas gauge, you will find me at the side of the road shaking my head,


  15. LOL. I’m glad you wore the tie anyway. However, i actually like the color tests — they are the only ones i can pass. Once the doc said “Tell me when you can see the window.” I looked and looked for the hidden window, but all i could see was a green hillside. After moving the view closer four times, i finally spotted a house. “Oh that must be where the window is!” i said happily.
    “Do you see the window now, then?”
    “No…” Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Teagan. I like your attitude toward the tests. My eye doctor still gives me the color test and I keep telling them that I don’t see the numbers on two out of three slides. On tech was actually pointing at them with a pencil and I told her “it’s ok, I know that I’m colorblind” – it’s not like you have to get a passing grade :)

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Dan, there is a movie. I think it’s got Sylvester Stallone in it. A certain man was found in the elevator by the bad guys and one of the bad guys sent him out while screaming “Go buy a new shirt! Go buy a new shirt!” The man had a really crazy-looking shirt, so colorful you’d think he was a chameleon! This post has made me wonder if he even knew he color of his shirt. Maybe he didn’t know!! And I’ve laughed very hard at the possibility. I pictured you in that tie, thinking the gray was lavender–it’s so cool. Myself I can tell the colors of the rainbow. But there are awful numerous shades of every color. I never can distinguish those ones.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure, Dan. Everything we see is so small. I was looking at these PHOTOS and I was shocked to see how nonexistent we are in the scheme of things. I think that if somebody was looking for us in the universe, they would never find us. What we see when we look at things is so puny.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. OK, I tried to read all the comments, but you just have too many for that! I just want to say that NOT everyone can wear lavender and not all men are confident enough to pull it off, much less look adorable. One in a million Dan, that’s you;)

    Liked by 1 person

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