Life in technicolor

Ellen Duffer | Associate Editor

Being “colorblind” doesn’t always translate to seeing only black and white; this type of color vision deficiency (CVD), called monochromacy, rarely occurs. Instead, the majority of individuals with CVD (about eight percent of all males and 0.5 percent of all females, according to the National Institutes of Health) have a limited perception of color that does not consistently affect their daily lives.Sophomore Ben Tilley, who has a red and blue deficiency, said that when most people refer to someone as colorblind, they actually mean to describe one of several kinds of CVD.

“‘Colorblind’ is kind of a misused term,” Tilley said. “There [are] fancy types, like scientific terms, but I have the red-blue kind. Basically, I get my reds and pinks mixed up, and I get my blues and purples mixed up. Colors that have [red and blue in them] are also mixed up. For example, I don’t know what orange looks like.”

According to, those affected by CVD generally have a weakness or blindness in one or two hues. Protans, or people with protanomaly or protanopia, have a red weakness or blindness, respectively. Those with deuteranomaly or deuteranopia have a green weakness or blindness, respectively. Tritanopes, or those with tritanomaly or tritanopia, have a blue and yellow weakness or blindness, respectively.

Senior Ben Van Winkle, who has a red and green weakness, said he is interested in a career in medicine, but he recognizes that his color deficiency may limit him to math-based science careers, since doctors must be able to see the different colors of veins in the human body.

Originally, Tilley said he was considering joining the Air Force after high school, but he said he will have to make a different career selection because of his color deficiency.

“I thought the Air Force would be cool, but they don’t accept people who are colorblind, because of all the [colored] indicating lights,” Tilley said. “I kind of agree they shouldn’t.”

Sophomore Teddy Bow, who said he has trouble seeing reds and greens like Van Winkle, said he wanted to be a pilot after being exposed to the potential career at Virginia Beach. Like Tilley, however, he said he understands that this may not be an viable option because of the color-coding implemented in airplane instruments.

Van Winkle said he also sees complications resulting from his color deficiency in his art classes. During his sophomore year, he said, he made the sky purple in one of his pieces; he said this was unintentional, but that his teacher praised him for being so creative in his color choices. Now, Van Winkle said he usually takes more time to plan the colors used in his art to ensure he executes what he intends.

“It’s hard with fast-drying media,” Van Winkle said. “Black-and-white and shadows are easier.”

Planning and thought is required for Tilley to select his clothes each day, he said, though he usually isn’t ambitious regarding the color choices of what he wears.

“Picking out clothes in the morning [is affected by my color deficiency] — I wear a lot of bland colors, but when I do wear bright colors, I don’t really care if they match or not,” Tilley said.

Although Tilley said he isn’t greatly affect by having color weaknesses on a daily basis, he said issues arise when he is required to perform color-based tasks.

“When teachers color-code stuff, I’m like, ‘Oh, thanks,’” Tilley said.

Driving can become a problem for individuals with CVD because of the use of basic colors on signs and lights, but Tilley and Van Winkle both said they were still able to drive after being administered a color test as a precaution.

“You have to take an extra test before you get your license, but I can see,” Tilley said. “I have my temps. I know the position of the light, where it is, and I can see the arrow.”

In some situations, having a color deficiency can be advantageous, according to Tilley.

“I think color deficient people are better at telling shades than [people with] normal vision,” Tilley said.

For Van Winkle, blacks and whites are “more vivid,” he said, allowing him to perceive depth possibly better than those with normal color vision.

Tilley said that after years of trying to associate colors with objects, he has taught himself to use comparisons to correctly label colors.

“I’ve gotten used to things; I know what colors things are even though I can’t see them, because I can compare them,” Tilley said. “I’ve learned to do that. I know the fruit is orange, so when I see something that’s like the fruit orange, I know it’s orange.”

Tilley said these comparisons are necessary because as he gets older, it becomes more important for him to be able to correctly identify colors in an array of objects.

“As a child, it’s not required to know your colors,” Tilley said. “It’s one of those simple things they teach you. But as an adult, you kind of need to know your colors more.”

The discovery of a color deficiency commonly occurs when children are being taught the names of colors, like when Tilley said he was trying to learn the identity of blue.

“[I realized I was color deficient] probably [in] preschool, because books [would] say something was blue, and I would point to something that wasn’t blue and say it was,” Tilley said. “[Then,] teachers called my mom. They were probably like, ‘You’re wrong.’ They probably thought I was really stupid.”

Bow said he took an Ishihara color plate test, comprised of a circle of colored dots that form an image, letter or number, as a child, when he was a child. Eventually, he said, he “grew into” his color deficiency and, like Tilley, learned to make comparisons to objects that have their colors labeled.

Van Winkle said he learned of his color deficiency in first grade when he tried to color the sky purple and his teacher told him to make his picture more realistic. He said an argument ensued, because to him, nothing appeared incorrect in his drawing.

“[I wondered,] ‘Why does blue have two names?’” Van Winkle said.

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