Category Archives: Vision

Colorblind Awareness Day

Happy Colorblind Awareness Day! 
(Or as the rest of the world likes to call it St. Patrick’s Day)

Twenty plus years ago I woke up on St. Patrick’s Day.  Excited for a fun holiday, I went to my closet and picked out my favorite bright green t-shirt.  I was ready and exited.  You see, tradition has it that if somebody doesn’t wear green on St. Patty’s day you are allowed to pinch them.  I was in elementary school, and if I didn’t wear green I was likely to end up like a victim in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

ntssadylI arrived at school and instantly I was pinched… hard!  “Wait!”, I said, “I’m wearing green, you aren’t allowed to pinch me.”  The girl looked at me funny and asked: “Uh… where?”  I excitedly pointed at my bright green t-shirt.  She laughed at me and ran away.

Child after child they came up pinches, laughed, and ran away.  After a few of them I started to realize I had made a dreadful mistake.  It was obvious I wasn’t wearing green, or at least it was obvious to them.

After a day of being pinched and laughed at, I finally made it home.  I said to my mom: “I was pinched all day today, why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t wearing green?!”  She looked at me a little quizzically and responded: “Oh, I thought you were just trying to be a little rebellious.”

The next year, I was ready.  I asked my mom for help, and the two of us picked out a nice green shirt for St. Patrick’s Day.  I went to school, and was determined to make up for last year.  This year I would be the aggressor, my classmates would feel my pinch!  I arrived and noticed somebody without green on.  I ran up and said: “I get to pinch you!  You aren’t wearing green.”  The boy gave me a strange look, “Yes I am”, he said.  I responded, “It doesn’t count if it is on your underwear.”  And I reached out and pinched him hard.

Satisfied that I had won this year I strutted into class, only to find my teacher there waiting with her arms crossed, the little boy with a smirk standing next to her.  After an explanation that his pants were indeed green.  And a firm explanation that pinching is not allowed in school, I was finally sent to my seat.  From that day forward, I decided to fight for the disabled.  I vowed to hate St. Patrick’s Day, and to defend all those who are pinched unaware.  Or… at least that’s what I tell everyone when, after an hour of staring into my closet debating which one is green, I end up at work wearing a bright yellow shirt.

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Funny Colorblind Stories

As we get closer to Colorblind Awareness day (also known as St. Patrick’s Day), I wanted to share a variety of my colorblind experiences.  I hope you find them funny.

First Bad Experience

One day in elementary school I was day dreaming out the window.  All of a sudden I heard my name:
brown-splat-hiTeacher: “Brad, what color is that on the right page?”
Me: “Uh… what page are we on.”
Teacher (Disapprovingly): “We’re on page 96, please follow along.”
Me (Turning to the page): “Red.”
Teacher (Mad): “No what color is it really.”
Me: “Green?”  (Now I knew if something wasn’t red it must be green)
Teacher (Furious): “Stop playing games!  What color is it?”
Without red and green, I had no clue.  I started spouting out colors:
Me: “Orange?  Yellow?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.”
Teacher: “It is brown!  It is brown!”

Brown, I thought, I would never have guessed brown!

(On a side note, never get between my mom and one of her kids…  I don’t know what words she had with that teacher, but they must have been great.  That was one of the best apologies I’ve received in my life.)

Getting Dressed

When I was a teenager, I still remember vividly the first time I realized that my manner of dress was quite possibly hurting other’s eyes.  After dressing up for a nice event, and driving to the event with my dad, I got out of the car.  He took one look at me and burst out laughing.  After checking my zipper, if my shirt was tucked in, and whether I had toilet paper on my shoe I finally gave up and asked.

2013-02-23 18.15.19

Dad: “You don’t see that?”
Me: “See what?”
Dad: “Your clothes look horrible, that is the worst matching I’ve ever seen.”

Still to this day I need material supervision whenever I get dressed.  I only use about a quarter of my wardrobe.  The other 3/4 is sectioned off, and I only venture into it if we’re going somewhere nice, but only if Sarah is available to help dress me.  I will admit though, as with the picture to the left, I sometimes know it doesn’t match and ignore it completely.  I figure, if I can’t get it completely right, I might as well  make it as wrong as possible.

Traffic Lights

Now the one question everyone wants to know is: “How do you drive?  I mean how can you tell the traffic lights apart.”  Growing up, I always thought this was a silly question, Red is on top, yellow in the middle, and green on bottom.   I never understood what was so confusing about that.  They’d always bring up horizontal traffic lights, but honestly I had never seen one (I have since).

thumb

Truth be told, the green and the red on traffic lights don’t look at all similar to me.  The green looks almost white to me, while the red is a rich red color.  In fact the green is so close to white that for years I thought the white you-can-cross-the-crosswalk guy was green.  I didn’t find out until I was talking with a friend and he had no clue what “little green crossing guy” I was talking about.  In fact this was so surprising to me, that sometimes I still wonder if this is a giant hoax and one day you guys are all going to burst out screaming: “The little walking guy is green!  He’s green!  April Fools!  He’s green!”  Until then I’ll keep checking the RGB values on every image I see of him, just to make sure.

Now the red and the yellow on the other hand are fairly similar.  Which doesn’t ever cause problems, unless it is a flashing single light.  Even then my rules of safety are pretty easy…
1) Look what traffic is doing.
2) Ask the person next to me what the color is.
3) If in doubt, stop at all yellow flashing lights.

mY_cDVzYkzzSQVpDwY953dAThe third one almost never happens, you’d be surprised how easy it is to figure out the color way in advance, from signs, past experience, and a little help from friends.  But be careful of your friends…

One time, while in the car with Tanner Guzy I came across an unknown single flashing light.  I was pretty sure it was yellow, but I verified with Guzy.

Me: “That light is yellow, right?”
Guzy: “Oh yeah.”
<Proceed to drive through with another car nearing the intersection>
Guzy: “Wait!  That’s red.”
<Terrified I throw on the breaks and screech to a halt>
<Heart pumping I looked at Guzy>
Guzy: “Dude, I am so sorry,  I’m just kidding, it really is yellow.”

Friend’s for Good and Bad

A lot of my friends never knew I was colorblind.  But those that did have always made life fun.  Here are a few stories with friends:

– Paintball:
The first time my friends took me to an indoor paintball arena it was really hard to tell the colors apart.  The first person I saw was a friend.  Terrified that he was on the other team I shot him 3 times in the chest, only to recognize Aaron Jardine’s face.  “Dude!  He yelled, same team, can’t you tell the colors apart!!”   Actually no.  (I still don’t understand why all indoor Laser Tag or Paintball arenas use Red and Green… Really?)

– Board Games:
c26-1933054395-2-lNate and I have been friends for as long as I remember.  It was always his goal to beat me (or to help me win), and he wasn’t afraid to use any means necessary.  While playing video games he would pick the colors that blended in with the background.  While playing board games he would pick the color closest to mine so I would sometimes mistake his pieces for mine.  And while playing paintball he would dress in camouflage.  And you know what, it worked!

– Fake Poisoning
500 (1)Oftentimes it surprises me how clueless people can be about colorblindness.  But some people are much worse than others.  I once convinced somebody that since green light didn’t hit my eyes I could effectively see through green.  I convinced him I could see threw walls by painting them green.  I’ve shared that story with a lot of people including my mission companions.

While serving in Toronto we received some nasty green toothpaste for Christmas.  We deemed the toothpaste to be poisonous.  One day my companion made me a plate of cookies covered in this poisonous green toothpaste.  He was trying to poison me, because, naturally, I couldn’t see the poison.

Color of Work

Growing up we were given a variety of chores.  One Saturday morning I had the task of picking up apples.  After an exhausting morning of picking up all the apples I finally smiled to myself, I was done.  My Dad came out to check my work and gave me a frustrated look: “You aren’t done, you have a long way to go.”  After a pause, my confused expression, and another long look he realized: “You can’t see all those can you?”  See what?  He informed me I was only halfway done…

I worked wiring cables for a few Saturdays.  The first time I cracked open I realized I had no clue which wires went where, the colors were awfully close.  So I came up with a crackbrained plan.  Find the color yellow, since I could find that one just fine, and work around the wires in clockwise order.  It worked, every… single… time.

Artwork

2012-01-15 11.59.57I’ve always loved art.  Though, I gave up on creating it years ago due to colors.  But, for Logan’s room we decided to paint a Mario Brothers scene over all the walls.  We started sketching and that went great!  We moved on to painting, my first stop: the green pipe.  After painting most of the pipe, Sarah burst into laughter and couldn’t control herself long enough to tell me what was wrong.  She turned to me and said: “You do realize Mario’s pipes aren’t brown, right?”  Needless to say, I was banned from mixing colors.

Now you may wonder to yourself, “Life while colorblind is really hard!”  But you know what, it has made for a lot of funny experiences, and it is something I actually look forward to talking about.

Check out my app: Colorblind Vision

My Son’s Hair is Green

Yesterday, as I walked down the street I looked at my son Logan and thought to myself: “Wow, he has such bright green hair, it really shows up well in the sunlight.”  By now, you may be thinking I am joking.  Or perhaps I played a cruel joke on my son and dyed his hair color to celebrate St. Patrick’s day.  But, I promise this isn’t a joke.   His hair looked the same way it always does, and you can see it in the picture below:

2014-03-07 10.12.53

By now you probably have realized that something is wrong with me.  In fact you may be hoping, deep down inside, that I’ve gone a little bit insane.  Which, let’s face it, could make for an interesting blog article to read.  But the truth is I experience something fairly unique I am colorblind.  When people find out I am colorblind they are generally really interested in what I see, how colorblind I am, and of course (the most important) how I manage to stop at stop signs.  But before I can get into those nitty gritty details, we need to learn a little bit about colorblindness.

How common is colorblindness?

From wikipedia, we get some pretty interesting stats.

Males Females
Dichromacy 2.4% 0.03%
Protanopia (red deficient: L cone absent) 1.3% 0.02%
Deuteranopia (green deficient: M cone absent) 1.2% 0.01%
Tritanopia (blue deficient: S cone absent) 0.001% 0.03%
Anomalous Trichromacy 6.3% 0.37%
Protanomaly (red deficient: L cone defect) 1.3% 0.02%
Deuteranomaly (green deficient: M cone defect) 5.0% 0.35%
Tritanomaly (blue deficient: S cone defect) 0.0001% 0.0001%

We instantly see one obvious things.  First, men are much more likely to be colorblind than women, this is due to the genetic tie colorblindness has to the ‘X’ chromosome.  Since women have two, their other ‘X’ chromosome can beat up the first and make it stay quiet.  (Although I would like to note that women still can be colorblind!  For some reason they think they are immune.  So, men, even though you are 22 times more likely to be incorrect, feel free to continue questioning their judgement.)

Cones, Cones, Cones

Next, you may be asking yourself what all these different types mean.  And more importantly how it actually affects a person’s vision.  I’ll try to break it down for you.  First there are two types of doodads in your eye.  You have cones and rods.  For our purposes cones are the only things that matter, as they are what determine color.  You were blessed with 3 different kinds of cones.  These are often referred to as the L, M, and S cones.  (For long, medium, and short, referring the wavelength it reacts to).  You may also hear people refer to these as Red, Green, and Blue.  Although that isn’t entirely accurate as you can see in the graph below.

Now each of these cones lights up with a response when photons (i.e. little bits of light) of a certain wavelength hit the rod.  If violet photon hits, the blue cone lights up with a huge response, and the other two don’t.  If a green photon hits, both the red and the green light up, but the green lights up more.

human_cone_action_spectra
Graphic by Will Lowry

And here’s another one by the Physics Classroom.

u12l2b2
The Physics Classroom

Now you’ll notice there’s some overlap.  That overlap is super important.  You see without that overlap the brain can’t resolve certain colors…  Here’s an example, the color ‘Yellow’ hits your eye.  Your 3 cones tell your brain about their responses.  The Blue sends back 0%.  The green sends back 70%, and the Red sends back 98%.  Your brain knows that specific combination makes yellow.

u12l2b2_mod1u12l2b2_mod2

But now imagine you were stuck with only 2 cones, green and blue.  When the response comes in saying 0% blue, and 70% green.  Now the brain has a harder time determining which side of the curve it is on.  In a bright room, it will probably be okay.  In a dark room it may get 0% blue for both colors, making it hard to tell what side of the curve it is on.  Without the red cone’s extra information, those colors make look the ‘same’.  Remove the blue cone too and you would never be able to tell the difference between the two sides of the curve.

Colorblind Types

This is why trying to figure out what a colorblind person sees is so difficult.  This is why you may often hear people say colorblindness is more like a ‘confusion of colors’.  And why they may claim they can see all the colors, yet after that claim they still dress in a bizarre fashion, and say the wrong names for colors that really aren’t that close.

That alone is difficult enough.  Now add in the fact that different cones missing mean different things.  And also that a cone doesn’t just need to be missing to cause problems…  If a cone is simply shifted or defective it may have some of the same effects, but perhaps not as severe.

But understanding this goes a long way to understanding the different types of colorblindness.  So let’s take a look at those stats once again, but I’ve changed the titles out to be a little more clear:

MALES FEMALES
The Absentees 2.4% 0.03%
Missing Red Cone (Red-Green) 1.3% 0.02%
Missing Green Cone (Red-Green) 1.2% 0.01%
Missing Blue Cone (Blue-Yellow) 0.001% 0.03%
The Shifts 6.3% 0.37%
Shifted/Damaged Red Cone 1.3% 0.02%
Shifted/Damaged Green Cone 5.0% 0.35%
Shifted/Damaged Blue Cone 0.0001% 0.0001%

So much easier to read…  so it turns out that being partially colorblind is 2.5 x more likely than missing the code completely.  And being red-green colorblind is something like 8000x more likely than being blue-yellow.

It is also clear now what some of the differences between missing various cones are:

All Red-Green: Struggles in the red-yellow-green portion of the spectrum.  If the cone is missing it is worse.  If it is shifted it could be bad or not.

Missing red: Deep reds end up looking like black, since you’ve got no cone on the far right to pick those up.

Missing green: Purples end up looking like blue, since you’ve got nothing on the far left to help distinguish the colors.

Missing blue: Blues look greenish and dimmed (maybe even black).  Yellow looks like pink, and purles look like reds.

The Magical Mystery Brain

But, here’s where it gets even more crazy.  The brain uses more than just the eyes to fill in details.  The brain’s ultimate goal is to be correct, (it is fairly obsessive compulsive about giving you the right answer).  It doesn’t just stop at one source, it checks a bunch other sources as well to make sure the information it gives you is correct.  One of the things it uses is your bank of knowledge.

If you tell a colorblind person the correct color for an object they will begin to see the correct color.  Not only will they know the right color, but they will physically see the right color as well.  It is a pretty trippy experience if you notice it happen, but most of the time the brain does it without you ever noticing.

Logan’s Green Hair

Knowing all of the above, I thoroughly believe I am missing my green cone.  I’m part of the 1% who not only has a defective green, but it is outright missing.  I really can’t tell the difference between blues and purples, and I’ve always struggled with reds and greens.  I can (for the most part) hide the fact that I am, because my brain fills in all the details and I don’t really think twice about it.

But knowing how my eyes work, and knowing that Logan’s shade of hair is right among one of those colors my brain can’t resolve correct, sometimes I misguide my brain a bit.  If I stare at my son’s hair enough and convince myself it is green, I can actually see it as green.  You may think I’m crazy, but my eyes don’t have enough information, and my brain is being given misinformation.  It is a really cool experience.

Yesterday, was simply the first time it happened without me trying.

Anyway, if you’re interested in seeing what life is like through my eyes, check out my Android app:

Colorblind Vision by Brad Grimm