mobile phone with unrecognizable colors

Color Blindness – How an App Created Empathy for a Co-worker

“Is this one green, or brown?” my colleague asked me under the yellow light of a networking cabinet. The cables he had pried apart in his fingers were faded with age, and under the tint of the aging bulb, even I had to squint to make sure I wasn’t giving him the wrong information.
We all learn about colorblindness in school, but the little things it can affect that have a big impact easily sneak by right under our noses. A single discrepancy in the of these intricately colored wires could wreak havoc on an entire computer network. After working with Drew for a couple of weeks, I had to see for myself what my colorblind friend experiences. A quick keyword tapped into my phone lead me to the app with exactly the experience I was looking for.

Using the camera on my phone, the “Colorblind Vision” app is programmed to deplete the same color spectrums as people with colorblindness cannot see. The results were remarkable. Things that were once incredibly familiar to me became excruciating to differentiate. Looking through a simulation of how my friend experiences eyesight, I can no longer tell the difference between crucial things to my job. Which plug is pink and which is green? These two, vibrant colors became an almost identical, pallid shade under the gaze of my phone. The networking cables we work with daily are unrecognizable. I can no longer rely on the color of my food to determine whether or not it is cooked. Drew must look for key clues in everything he does in order to be processing the correct information. At a traffic light, he must think of the position of the light, rather than simply its color.

Colorblindness affects the X chromosome in humans, making it a more common affliction among men, who do not have a second X chromosome to correct this particular genetic mutation. There are different grades of colorblindness as well. Of the three spectrums of light that humans can see (Red, Green, and Blue), the colorblind can experience varying deficiencies in their capability to process the red and green wavelength. Drew, who has Protanopia, can still recognize the various colors, but when they are close together their individual shades can blur and become confusing. The app can simulate Protanopia effectively enough, that Drew cannot recognize the difference between what is depicted on my screen and the actual colors of things. Along with this particular spectrum deficiency, the app can simulate “Deuteranopia”, another kind of Red-Green deficiency. In some cases, the colorblind can experience a “Blue-Yellow” deficiency called “Tritanopia”, as well as a Black-White deficiency that renders all things as if seen through a monochromatic film strip, “Achromatopia”.
Thanks to Drew, I literally have a new perspective on life, and every time I’m digging through a box of cables I will always think of what my colleague would be seeing instead of me. These experiences beg the question of what design choices we can make to ensure information is easily visible. Drew explained to me “You know that ‘Christmas Green’ and ‘Christmas Red’? Those are the same color to me.” Thinking of this, and the way many boxes are designed and decorated around the holiday season helped me recognize that some texts could be non-existent to the colorblind if they are not designed or accentuated correctly. I will keep this experience in my back pocket for anything I plan on designing or constructing in the future.

Colorblind Vision is a free app on Google and Apple stores and created by Bradley Grimm.

“See what it is like to be colorblind by simulating each type. Take a color blindness test to check your vision, and create your own custom colorblind tests to share with others. Learn about what color blindness is, the different kinds, and the effects of it.If you are colorblind, use this tool to extract colors from the world around you to help you see color better. And share with others was your world is like when they ask”