Inherited Colour Blindness

This is a picture of my dad and Ronnie, taken just before Christmas. The two of them are colour blind: Ronnie to a small degree, my father: well, I don’t know, but I suspect a whole lot more severely.

We found out that Ronnie is slightly colour blind after Reid asked an optician to check. I seem to remember Ronnie having a little bit of trouble when he was quite young with colours, but I didn’t make much of it. Reid must have suspected something more. The optician told us it was inherited, and thought that the maternal grandfather must be colour blind as well. I finally remembered to print out some colour blind tests, like the one here, when we last went to Thorold.

Thinking that a print out might not capture the colours well enough to test my dad, I tested Ronnie with them first. He couldn’t see some of the numbers on the plates. My dad, however, couldn’t see ANY of the numbers. Even the first one, 12, that says everyone should be able to see it. At one point, when I turned over the page, my dad yelled out “21”! He had seen the number in shades of grey through the back of the paper. Well, that ruled out his claim that his glasses weren’t very good (after all, the numbers were over an inch high!)

This was intriguing. How convenient — look at the shirt he was wearing! I had asked him if he could see a difference in traffic lights, and he said of course: red is on the top. (Hah!) I asked him to point to red on his shirt, and he did it correctly. But then I asked him to point to green, and he pointed to the white lines which run between the squares. (The white lines were actually slightly saturated with red.) I suppose my earlier comment about him looking like Christmas made no sense to him.

I asked him what colour my somewhat-faded blue-jeans were, and he told me they were lots of colours. When I asked him to be specific, he said white… and then a little hesitantly, green. Green?!?! Eek. My mother said: well, you know, he doesn’t pay attention to colours. I tried to explain to her that it’s not that he doesn’t pay attention, he can’t see them as we do.

My father is 77 years old. I’m 41. And I’ve only just found out that he’s colour blind. Obviously, it’s not slight colour blindness. Suddenly, a wave of understanding descended. This is why he’s been driving my mother crazy over the years, and he couldn’t understand why she goes nuts when he dresses himself. She has to lay out all his clothes. He thinks she’s nuts, and picky for no reason. She thinks he’s a slob who couldn’t care less about his appearance. What a riot!

2 thoughts on “Inherited Colour Blindness”

  1. As one of those with mild red-green colour blindness, I always hated questions about stoplights or red and green pens. Jeez, it’s like they expect me to say “I…I…can’t see anything! It’s invisible!”

    It’s a lot more subtle. I have a hard time with certain types of purple versus blue, and can’t perceive the differences in brightnesses of greens. A favourite watercolour by kids’ artist Marie-Louise Gay has a sudden transition between a purple tree trunk and a green tree branch that I never noticed. Same tonal qualites and jsut the right frequencies that it never hit me. But now that it’s been pointed out to me, I can see it. Kinda.

    It sounds like your dad has it worse. But it might be even worse than ever because of aging!

    If you can stand the lab-language (hey I studied this sort of thing, so it’s second nature) there’s a good site here: Short version: there are seven types of colour blindness, and then there’s aging on top of it! They say that designers often make the mistake of worrying about the 1% of those heavily colour-blind while forgetting the elderly, who almost all have colour perception issue due to the darkening and yellowing of the lens and the cornea.

  2. Really good point about the aging. I hadn’t thought of that. The site is a great one, thanks! I had not come across that one yet.

    I think Ronnie’s less red sensitive. For example: he has a purple and a blue puffer he only uses when he’s sick. There’s a big difference between them: the purple puffer has steroids in it, he can only take it twice a day, and he needs to take it for a prescribed amount of time. He can use the blue one more liberally. We asked him to get the purple puffer, and he picked up the blue one. Somewhat of a concern now, because he can self-medicate. I had to write the word “purple” on the purple one. So this is what you’re talking about.. colour blindness is subtle. It’s as though he can’t see enought red in the purple to be able to distinguish it from blue. I think it’s the same with orange/red for him. I haven’t noticed any trouble with greens.

    I’m learning more and more about it. It’s facinating, actually.

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