Seeing the world in full colour is an ability that we often take for granted, but for the millions of people suffering from colour blindness, it is not as obvious.
For those who can see a limited range of colour, it is not uncommon to discover they are colour-blind at school: being able to see, name and use colours correctly is a requirement for many school activities starting from early childhood and influences everyday life in a lot of unexpected ways.
There are many forms and degrees of colour blindness and not everyone is affected the same way, but the obstacles that arise from not seeing the full colour spectrum go far beyond the ability to appreciate, study and produce visual art. What about reading a presentation when the background and text appear to be the same colour, or identifying countries on a map?
Colour-blind people can develop coping strategies to compensate for their vision deficiency, but unless teachers accommodate them, the life of colour-blind students can be unnecessarily difficult and their learning opportunities negatively affected across the board. Fortunately, technology can support the colour-blind in several ways.
In order to educate others, teachers must first educate themselves. If you are an instructor dealing with students whose academic performances are being affected by colour blindness, read scientific literature about their condition or, if you cannot, simply ask them what they see and adapt your teaching strategies accordingly.
If someone in your class is colour-blind, remember that the solution often lies in providing high contrast: when you design presentations for your lectures or worksheets for your students, or even just choose the chalk to write with, you might want to take into account that colour blindness manifests most commonly as an inability to distinguish red and green or yellow and blue, so refrain from assigning tasks that rely heavily on those particular colour pairs, and instead provide black and white versions of coloured text. Even xeroxing textbook pages that make use of indistinguishable colours can help.
If you are unsure what colours to use to let colour-blind students make the most of your lessons, there are even dedicated tools employed primarily by Web and graphic designers to help you select accessible colour combinations and even simulate what a colour-blind person might see so you can check for yourself whether your idea works or not.
Learning more about colour blindness is also a prime opportunity to educate the other students about the condition and foster empathy, sensitivity and teamwork: unfortunately, colour-coding is such an essential part of our society that certain activities cannot be adapted to colour-blind students and must be performed in pairs so that a classmate with normal colour perception can help tell shades apart.
Tech solutions for the colour-blind
There is no known permanent cure for colour blindness, but medical technology has progressed to the point where correctional lenses can enhance colour vision as well as near-sightedness or short-sightedness.
Whatever form it takes, colour blindness is caused by a deficiency in the cones, a type of cell in the human eye responsible for the perception of the different wavelengths of light that determine colour.
If you have determined that correctional lenses are not suited to your particular form of colour blindness, there are several technological solutions to help you, such as an array of downloadable apps that can compensate for colour blindness in many ways, from brightening or darkening selected parts of an image to provide better contrast, to identifying colours by name simply by taking a picture and touching a point in it.
From compensation tools to intelligent design choices, an appropriate use of technology gives no excuse to leave colour-blind students behind: everyone deserves the same opportunities to learn, even if they see the world a little differently.