The difficulties colour blind pupils experience in Art are easy for a colour ‘normal’ teacher to understand. Where a colour blind child has been diagnosed, schools will generally make some allowances for these children in art lessons.
However, there are many more crucial areas of secondary and further education where lack of colour vision is a serious disadvantage. Most teachers have had no training in how to identify and support their colour blind students and are not aware that these students are entitled to extra help in some external exams (for example chemistry practicals).
Our studies show that by Year 7 about 80% of children have never been screened for colour blindness. This means there will be a significant number of colour blind children in every secondary school who will not even be aware that they are colour blind. So neither the school/teachers or parents know which pupils are colour blind and as a consequence non-diagnosed pupils will receive no support at all.
However, by adopting the advice and techniques set out in our Detailed Advice Sheet for Teachers you can ensure that all of your colour blind pupils, including the undiagnosed ones, are better supported in your lessons.
Take particular care with interactive whiteboards and information projected onto screens as these can ‘wash out’ colours making coloured information more difficult to see. Often colour blind students miss important parts of the lessons because they can’t clearly see the pointer or because of poor choice of colours chosen to highlight graphs, charts and diagrams.
The main problem subjects are maths, all areas of science, geography, sport and art but some aspects of other subjects, such as languages, can also cause issues.
Some examples and images are detailed below:-
Teachers must not assume pupils will let them know if they are having difficulties as the example of the Property Director of a major retailer shows – click here to read his account.
An example of this in practice is an incident which recently occurred in a class of Year 6 pupils in a Buckinghamshire primary school. The pupils had just started to learn French. The French teacher put on the board a red triangle, a blue square, a green circle and a yellow rectangle, then asked the students to describe what they saw in French. A (diagnosed) colour blind student was able to see the shapes and understand the task but was not able to identify the colours and was therefore unable to do the task without help. Although 10 years old and in a class where all the pupils were aware of his condition, he did not tell the teacher he could not complete the task correctly and so did not receive full marks. When the boy’s parents raised the issue with the teacher at a later date she immediately labelled all the shapes with their names and colours in English and the boy was able to re-do the task and obtain full marks.
Teachers should be aware that coursework presented by colour blind students may seem drab due to the restricted colour palette chosen by the student and the student may lose marks for presentation without understanding why.
Below are the main areas of the curriculum where colour blind students experience difficulties, with a brief indication of some of the issues which can arise.
A colour blind student may need help when using coloured web pages or any instructions on interactive whiteboards where the text is in colours ranging across the red/green spectrum which can be difficult or impossible to see. Computer-based teaching aids to help improve typing speed or teach basic computer programming etc need to be assessed to check they are suitable for colour blind children before they are used.
This is the home page of this website as it would appear to a red/green colour blind student:
Note that most websites have some areas which are inaccessible to the colour blind.
There are numerous areas of the science curriculum where colour blind students will experience difficulties in understanding what is being taught due to colour issues and some examples of the problems that might be experienced are listed below:-
- colour blind students cannot read litmus paper accurately
- colour blind students cannot tell the colours of different chemical solutions and would have great difficulty undertaking chemical titrations in practical chemistry exams
- colour blind students are unable to identify metals by the colour of the flame produced when the metal is burnt
- colour blind students are unable to accurately read stained slides under a microscope
- colour blind students may not be able to accurately carry out dissections in biology
- colour blind students may not be able to identify species of plants or insects correctly
- colour blind students will have difficulty fully understanding coloured diagrams in textbooks, particularly in biology
- colour blind students will have difficulty with coloured wiring, use of prisms in physics etc.
NOTE: Access Arrangements – some Examination bodies do not allow a colour ‘reader’ in science practicals for colour blind students. Check the rules which apply to your school’s examining body before entering a colour blind student for external examinations.
Difficulties in sporting situations have been discussed in Living with Colour Vision Deficiency and are relatively easy to avoid or rectify providing the teacher is aware of the effects of colour blindness.
Note: most school sports hall floors are marked with different coloured lines for different games – a colour blind pupil cannot be expected to see the different coloured markings and will make mistakes!
The problems of cricket balls are illustrated again here.
Maps can be extraordinarily difficult for colour blind students to interpret and they will frequently miss important information unless maps are also fully labelled or shaded using patterns. All geography textbooks should be revised by the teacher if necessary to ensure maps, graphs, pie charts etc contain secondary indicators for the colour blind to be able to use them with confidence.
Careers And Vocational Courses
Colour blind children about to make choices regarding their future careers and vocational courses must be properly advised on careers which they will find it difficult or impossible to pursue.
Most people know that a colour blind person is unlikely to be able to become a pilot but there are many other careers which are unsuitable for colour blind people and numerous jobs where the colour blind will find it difficult to function as well as their colour normal colleagues.
The most common industries where colour blind people are likely to be excluded are those where colour vision is critical to safety especially where coloured lights are used and a mistake could lead to a fatality. Most transport industries exclude colour blind people from most roles as do most uniformed services and a large number of disciplines in the Armed Forces.
Click here for a downloadable copy of a document which has been prepared by the Australian Colour Bind Awareness and Support Group and provides a useful summary of careers which will be affected by colour vision deficiency and includes some like medicine, which would not be immediately obvious to someone with normal colour vision.