I don’t CARE what color your shirt is, Karen.
I’m colorblind. Like the vast majority of colorblind people, I was born with the condition and have spent my entire life this way.
Colorblindness affects roughly 1 in every 12 men and 1 in every 200 women. Though that only amounts to about 4.5% of the human race, colorblindness alters the way 2.7 million people across the globe visually experience their lives.
2.7 million is a lot of people. Surely, most of us know at least one colorblind person, if not several. Maybe that’s partially why I struggle to understand why, even after all these years, every new person who learns of my colorblindness sees it as such a fascinating anomaly.
I can always feel when a conversation’s focus is about to careen towards my colorblindness. It’s like a sixth sense. Most of the time, this happens at the hands of one of my friends who haven’t yet realized that I’ve been over this dog and pony show since I was six. Other times, it’s my own fault, and the subject bubbles up because I’ve made some sort of blatant, color-based mistake. I take a deep breath, and prepare myself to have the same exact conversation I’ve been having with people (usually strangers or brand-new acquaintances) my entire life. Again.
For my full-spectrum viewing friends out there: here are a few questions I suggest you avoid the next time you encounter a colorblind person.
1. “So, you see like a dog, right? In black and white?”
Hey, nice to meet you too!
First of all, dogs don’t see in black and white. I understand that you haven’t spent your life frequently comparing your vision to that of Lassie’s and would therefore not need to know much about this subject, but the theory of dogs seeing in black and white is actually pretty old school. More recent studies estimate that dogs actually can see color, just only about 20% of what humans can.
Your answer: If a dog can see 20% of the color spectrum that you can, and the average colorblind person can see somewhere around 60%, I suppose it’s safe to assume that the average colorblind person is half human, half dog. Fair enough.
2. “What color is this?”
No. We’re not playing that game. Once I answer just one of these questions, I’m guaranteed to spend the next one to three hours scrambling around with someone picking up random objects and guessing what color they are.
Colorblindness is a minor impairment that doesn’t usually drastically hold anyone back in life. Despite that, it’s still off-putting to feel as though your “disability”, regardless of severity, is being exploited as some sick game for someone else. Upon learning a new friend of yours is slightly deaf, would you sit them down and shriek in different pitches to figure out which ones they could and couldn’t hear?
Listen, I get it. I really do. I thought your purple shirt was blue, and that’s mind-blowing. As much as I would love to spend the rest of the afternoon with you giggling and being wrong, this is weird and I did not sign up for it.
3. “What exactly can’t you see?”
There are so many different types of colorblindness, with varying intensities from person to person. Some people confuse red and green, others green and yellow; the list goes on and on. I’ve always struggled with certain shades of blue, red, brown, and green. Fun, I know. I have an older brother who’s also colorblind (thanks mom!), and we almost never agree about what color something is.
It all depends on who you’re talking to, what you’re looking at, and a few environmental factors like lighting, color/shade of surrounding objects, etc.
4. “What do you do at a stoplight?”
Usually I just close my eyes and gas it, while hoping for the best. I’m kidding, obviously.
I don’t know what other parents of colorblind children do, but mine taught me to read stoplights by direction rather than color. The top light means stop, middle slow down, bottom go. Fortunately, if a child is colorblind, it becomes pretty obvious early in their life. Little tricks like this keep things simple (not to mention keep the roads safe).
Side note/confession: I did just recently discover that the tiny walking man icon in NYC’s pedestrian lights is white, not green. I’ve lived here for three years. You learn something new every day.
5. “How do you get dressed in the morning?”
One pant leg at a time, baby. My colorblindness has undoubtedly led me towards a few mistakes when it comes to dressing myself. That being said, it’s also enabled me to make bolder fashion choices that I may not have pursued on purpose. Sometimes, I’ll even get compliments for something I didn’t know that I did. The downside: I occasionally wear two different colored socks. The upside: I was pairing black and navy way before it was considered appropriate OR trendy.
For the most part, I just trust myself and things usually work out. When I’m extra uncertain, I’ll tap my friends to confirm whether or not something is ridiculous. Thank God for picture messaging.
6. “Do you ever feel sad about not being able to see what things actually look like?”
I don’t. I’ve never known what it’s like to live as a non-colorblind person, so I can’t become so invested in the idea that I’m missing out. I’ve always found the world to be a beautiful place, even if my version of it is less vibrant and colorful than yours.
The next time you learn that one of your friends (or someone you’ve just met) is colorblind, make an effort to tone down your excitement and refrain from drilling them with strange questions like these. Unless you want to creep them out and/or offend them—if that’s your goal, you should most definitely ask them every question on this list.