What Do Colour Blind People See?

What Do Colour Blind People See?

Colour blindness is an often misunderstood condition. Many assume because of its name that “colour blind” means a person can only see in black and white. In actuality, the vast majority of people with colour blindness do see colour, but they see a much narrower range of colour. It is estimated that a person with normal colour vision can see up to 1 million distinct shades of colour, but a person who is colour blind may see as few as just 10 thousand colours (1% of the normal range).

Images that simulate colour blindness, like the ones in this blog, can give an impression to people with normal colour vision what it might be like to see the world through the eyes of a colour blind person, however these simulations actually fail to give a realistic understanding of the actual first person experience.

So, what are the actual effects of colour blindness on vision? The primary symptom that colour blind people experience is colour confusion. Put simply, colour confusion is when someone mistakenly identifies a colour, for example calling something orange when it is actually green.

Some commonly confused colours include:

If we examine the above list of colour confusions in more detail, we might notice there is a pattern: all of these colours contain some amount of either red or green in their shades. For example purple consists of blue combined with red, orange is a blend of red and yellow, pink is a blend of white and red, etc. This pattern is why colour blindness is sometimes also called “red-green colour blind” or “green deficient” or “red deficient”.

Colour Blindness Definition

Colour blindness is caused by a change or reduction of sensitivity of one or more of the light-sensitive cone cells in the eye. The human eye contains millions of cone cells which work together to translate light into neural signals that are transmitted along the optic nerve to the brain, resulting in the sensation of colour vision. The most common type of colour vision deficiency is called “red-green colour blindness” which occurs when the green and red sensitive cone cells’ sensitivities overlap more than they are supposed to. Instead of seeing green and red as distinct colours, the person sees them as being very similar, thus the resulting colour confusion and other frustrations.

Everyday Colour Confusion

Colour confusion can manifest in many everyday tasks, resulting in frustrating outcomes such as a mismatched outfit, questionable paint choices, incorrect colour naming and difficulty interpreting colour coded information such as charts, graphs and maps, which may be misconstrued as a learning disorder in early education.

Another task that can be frustrating is driving a car when colour blind; for the colour blind person, green light tends to look very pale green or nearly white, and red light may seem closer to orange. Colour blind drivers often say they look more for the traffic light’s position than its actual colour. Problems also arise when traffic lights are oriented differently than their typical vertical configuration (i.e. sideways, read left to right). If you encounter a driver who hesitates or slows at green lights, consider that they may be a colour blind driver looking out for your safety and theirs. The variability of traffic light positions and non-colour blind friendly colours pose a unique problem for colour blind drivers that can potentially lead to unsafe situations.

Normal Colour Vision

Deuteranomaly Colour Blindness

Sports is another area where colour blindness may inhibit some from playing at their full potential. Take cricket for instance. Because cricket is played with a dark pink ball on green grass, playing cricket with colour blindness (also spelled "colour blindness") can easily cause confusion and dangerous in-play situations during this fast-moving sport. Recently, an EnChroma customer noticed their 12-year old son struggling with his cricket game:

The ball is bowled at approx 100kph from 18m for his grade. As you can imagine, he could only see the ball late, often too late.

EnChroma glasses have helped him to see the ball earlier and have given him the confidence to play his shots. It has been a large improvement.

Daniel B.

From New Zealand

Normal Colour Vision

Protanomaly Colour Blindness

To learn more about the confusion the colour blind community faces, read our blog, What Is It Like to Be Colour Blind?

Unfortunately, those who are colour blind also miss out on one of the most colourful experiences of the day: the sunset. The vibrant pinks, yellows, purples, reds, and oranges of the setting sun are often mostly lost on the colour blind. The lower light conditions of sunset mixed with the presence of red in most of its colours make a sunset look bland and somewhat homogenous in colour across the sky. Those who are colour blind are unable to see the deeply varied layers of colour in between. Some of our favorite EnChroma moments have come when people see their first sunset with their glasses.

Harlee's EnChroma Moment

Looking Through Colour Blind Eyes

Because colour is learned and based on each individual’s perception, we can never report with 100% accuracy how all colour blind people see the world. However, to give you a better idea of what things might look like to colour blind person, we’ve simulated life through the eyes of someone with four different types of colour blindness (top image).

Normal Colour Vision

Protan Colour Blindness

Deutan colour blindness is a form of red-green colour blindness characterized by the shifting of green light-sensitive cone cells closer to red-sensitive cells than is normal. This causes “green-deficient” colour blindness.

Protan colour blindness is a form of red-green colour blindness characterized by the shifting of red light-sensitive cone cells closer to green-sensitive cells than is normal. This causes “red-deficient” colour blindness.

Tritan colour deficiency is most commonly acquired later in life due to aging of the eye or medical complications. It is characterized by a reduction in the sensitivity of the blue light-sensitive cones such that blue shades seem darker and less vibrant. In extremely rare cases tritanopia can be inherited also.

Achromatopsia is also known as “complete colour blindness” and is the only type that fully lives up to the term “colour blind”. It is extremely rare, however, those who have achromatopsia only see the world in shades of grey, black and white. In some cases low vision disorders such as progressive cone dystrophy can cause a gradual deterioration of colour vision that eventually turns into complete achromatopsia.

Still curious to learn more? Check out our Types of Colour Blindness page for a more in-depth look at these and more forms of colour blindness and how they affect those who have them

How Do Colour Blind People See and How Can EnChroma Colour Blind Glasses Help?

The world looks different through colour blind eyes. Colour confusion can lead to many frustrations in everyday life. EnChroma glasses work by blocking specific wavelengths of light where the cone cells are most overlapping, effectively increasing the separation between the red and green cone signals so that previously confused colours become more vibrant and distinct. From helping you dress sharp in the morning to giving you an edge on the playing field, it is EnChroma’s mission to deliver bright, vibrant colour that improves the lives of the colour blind community.

Share your story and join the #EnChroma community!

Reading next

How to Clean and Use Eyewear for Protection from COVID-19