Friday, February 16, 2007

A plea to you "normal" visioned folks out there

When I was young, my parents discovered I was somewhat colorblind. For the most part it didn't interfere with my life much. (Recently I discovered it would preclude my joining the bomb-squad.) But while it was sometimes annoying, I guess I just never noticed it.

Some of the most annoying repercussions of color-blindness has been for me in the areas of scientific reading. Way too often I have had to spend a long time squinting and carefully trying to figure out what a scientific graph or chart was trying to plot or illustrate when the authors were too insensitive to consider that they should not use only colors that color-blind people are unable to distinguish. The point of colors in graphs are to make it easier to grasp a larger amount of information, not harder.

This site does some great advocating for this. I wish more people would take it seriously. The site also has some great simulations of how color-blind people see colors. I think I have had hundreds of people over the course of my life ask me what color their shirt was. If I am feeling playful, I'd just say that I can't see colors and so their shirt is transparent. Generally I just say that it is hard to answer since I do not know how see colors. Generally I ask people to imagine an old TV that doesn't have all the colors, not quite a black and white one, but an early color one where there weren't 16 million colors. That probably approximates it. But It is a bit hard to explain, and you should all look at this site before asking me what color yourshirt is.

(Hat tip: Joseph A Ross in Nature.)


Lucy said...

Very informative! I sent this to my dad who is severely colorblind. Many a time my dad would be about to leave for work with a mismatched navy/black suit, until we told him he needed to have our approval to leave the house. When he bought me my first car, he asked my what color I wanted - I told him, black, blue or (dark)green. He bought me a fluorescent lime green car. It was probably the only car every painted this color (the car salesman also prob took advantage of my dad's colorblindness). When he gave me the car I almost died... he innocently said it's green isn't it? I said it sure is and drove the car for three years. (albeit all the abuse I got for it).... This is just one of the many anecdotes of growing up with a dad who is colorblind... I think I might be able to write a book about it... Just a tip... don't pick out your kids car or bike (that is another story for ... I told you I could write a book!) :)

Daniel said...

I have the same problem too: How do I explain what I see to somebody who has normal vision. I always tell it's like seeing in the dawn, but your television is also a good story to tell.

30 said...

I am now submitting a paper to Nature Neuroscience. As I was reviewing the guidelines for creating Figures I came upon the following, which should make you happy.


Authors are encouraged to consider the needs of colorblind readers (a substantial minority of the male population) when choosing colors for figures. Many colorblind readers cannot interpret micrographs presented in green and red, for example. Thus, we encourage authors to submit micrographs in color combinations other than green and red.

here is the link