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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Notes from the Desk: Red or green? I’m not sure

I have deuteranopia color blindness, a type of color deficiency. Essentially, this means that I have trouble distinguishing certain colors or fully understanding how saturated certain colors are, especially if they are green and red. Thankfully, with technology such as special glasses and visual-aid apps, navigating the world as a person with moderate color deficiency has not been too terrible. In fact, I equally enjoy the beautiful Vermont fall foliage, and I can play Wordle just fine. 

Well, that is until I accidentally broke my glasses and had to wait weeks for my mom to ship me a back-up pair. Before my glasses finally arrived at the mail center, navigating Middlebury classrooms and other functions was harder than expected. Sure, I can still use an app on my phone and hold it up to my clothes so I’m not mismatching, but I can’t always have a phone pointed at the slides in my classes. In classrooms, previously innocuous tasks like reading red-and-green colored charts or discerning color-coded topography lines suddenly became impossible. During Spring Symposium day, I sat through many informative presentations without understanding anything on the slides because some charts included my least favorite color duo — red and green. 

These experiences made me wonder about the ways in which we could all be more mindful of colorblindness. The expensive nature of colorblind glasses — ranging from 120 to 400 dollars without vision insurance — limits their accessibility. Color Blindness affects approximately one in 12 men and one in 200 women, meaning that among the more than 2,500 students of Middlebury, there are likely a lot of people that have color deficiency. 

When thinking about how to make classrooms or other settings more accessible to students with color deficiency, try to imagine that colors don’t exist. 

It is easy for people with normal color vision to overlook how little adaptations can make one’s life easier: For example, when writing notes on the whiteboard, a lot of people opt for red and green markers for the purpose of contrast. Unfortunately, they appear very similar, if not the same, to people with deuteranopia. If you can, avoid using both colors simultaneously to eliminate confusion. If you do not quite feel like abandoning red and green, I would recommend adding different shapes when you use these problematic colors so everyone can tell the difference. 

In addition, it is best practice to avoid “green and brown,” “green and blue,” and “green and yellow” combinations, especially in presentation slides, for similar reasons. Oftentimes, the fewer colors the better. You can always turn your screen into grayscale to see if the colors are contrasting enough for your audience members with colorblindness. In graphs, it is also possible to add “textures” such as stripes or dots to show the differences and highlight them for people with color deficiency. 

Awkward situations also arise when a professor asks students to create art involving colors. 

Although I have steadfastly avoided classes focused on painting and other visual art mediums, there have been cases where I needed to draw using colored pencils to explain or elaborate an idea for a class project. It is helpful to offer colored pencils or paints that have the colors clearly marked. Although people with deuteranopia cannot tell the differences between green and red hues well, we generally have a pretty good memory of the colors of common objects: for example, I may not know what the Italian flag actually looks like without my special glasses, but I do know that if I were asked to draw it, I should use green, white and red. 

It is still possible to take full advantage of the curriculum despite having moderate color deficiency. In the past, I was nervous about enrolling in an art history class as it inevitably involves a lot of colors. But to my surprise, the class I decided to take this semester has not been inaccessible because art historians often give a lot of textual explanations to each work that they analyze. I’ve been able to use accessibility tools to demarcate different colors when preparing for lessons. 

Perhaps we should all think about how to incorporate verbal or textual explanations that make charts, graphs and maps more intuitive for folks who have color deficiency. If accommodations are in place, people with deuteranopia can enjoy any subject as much as everyone else does. All of the above little steps will definitely help us enjoy a more “colorful” world.

Rain Ji

Rain Ji '23 is a managing editor of The Campus. She previously served as an Arts & Culture editor.

She is majoring in International and Global Studies with a concentration in the Middle East and North Africa. Previously, she studied abroad in Amman at the University of Jordan. Outside of academics, she enjoys watching Criminal Minds and skiing.