Colour blindness is not a fringe concern. The numbers are big: 1 in 12 boys; 1 in 200 women, and 1 in every classroom. Overall, it means about 300 million people across the planet and it’s mostly men. Kathryn Albany-Ward has been raising awareness of the challenges of colour blindness since 2010. Colour blindness can affect your school and exam performance; the occupations and careers you can take up are limited; there is a risk to health; and even apparently simple pleasures like watching and playing sports can be compromised.
When Kathryn first discovered her son was colour blind she went to the school to find out how to get help for him. She was horrified to discover how little attention is given to colourblindness and set up the website, Colour Blind Awareness, at that time. She has been advocating ever since and has already scored some impressive successes – her work with the FA to improve awareness of colour blindness in football has been fantastic.
Some words that you might not have come across that could be helpful with this episode:
Protanopia: severe red cone visual loss
Protanomalous: mild/moderate red visual loss
Deuteranomalous: mild/moderate green cone visual loss
Deuteranopia: severe green cone visual loss
*NEW* We have a full transcript for this episode: check it out at the bottom of the page.
Colour Blind Awareness: www.colourblindawareness.org
Facebook: Colour Blind Awareness
Colour Blind Awareness: Guidance documents for football
Blokeology Episode 035: Colour blindness and pink elephants
Male Psychology Conference 2019
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Note: The Blokeology podcast is, of course, all about the audio and the transcript misses out on emotion, nuance and the conversational elements. I think you’ll get more out of it listening to the audio but I hope the transcript remains a useful addition. The transcript is generated using a combination of speech recognition software and Mark 1 human – so there may be errors.
Kathryn: As with most things. When people get on their high horse, it tends to be because of their child. And I found out by complete fluke that my son was colour blind when he was seven and I had no idea. I was really shocked, um, when I realised what he was seeing and potentially what he was not seeing. I went to his school to talk to them about it and they weren’t very good and I was pretty disappointed with them. Um, so I went off to find out some more information and discovered there wasn’t any. So that basically started me off. I ended up setting up a website basically just partly putting all the information I wanted in one place as a parent, uh, initially. Um, and it has grown from there.
Euan: Yeah. So this was all back in 2010 or so. I think that’s you know, I think it says on the website that they, that’s been a community interest company since about then. But it might have been a little bit before that that you first discovered your son was having difficulties…
Kathryn: Yeah. Cause he’s 17 now. He was seven at the time. So yes, probably, yeah. Took me a while to actually get the company together and decide how I wanted to structure it, so that it would be effective. So going forwards to seats or what I wanted from it.
Euan: And um, I should ask, what kind of problems did you notice he was having at that time? If you’re alright, talking about that as it’s your son,
Kathryn: well, yeah, he’s not too happy. It’s never too happy about me putting his name forward. So obviously I don’t use his name, but he, he was a sporty child and um, he was playing football with a lot of children who went to the school where they played sports every day. And um, we decided to move him to that school. We thought that it’d be beneficial to him. And he’d only been there a week. And bearing in mind he , like, uh, we were a bit surprised when he said, oh, I don’t like my new school. Um, because he was really looking forward to going there a few times. Um, when I actually finally got to the bottom of what the problem was, it was because he didn’t know who was in his teams, the games, and they had the reversible top for games and, uh, it was maroon and olive green. So I didn’t think of those as red and green. I might have suddenly thought, oh, colour blindness. I didn’t know colour blindness was in the family at that point. And I didn’t realise that those were colours that he could, he could mix up. Um, so it took a bit of questioning, um, and him saying things like, well, yes, I know we’ve got a reversible top. When we turned the tops over, I don’t know who’s in my team. Um, sent me questioning what he was actually trying to say to me. And eventually the penny dropped that it might be colourblindness. And, uh, at that point in time it was just possible to get simulations. You could, mmm. Upload images onto this website where you could see a simulation of how things might look to somebody with colour blindness. And when I showed those to my son and he thought the images were exactly the same, but to me they were wildly different. I realised he must be colourblind, but until then I wasn’t sure about that was what the problem was.
Euan: Yeah. I mean did you go on to get him, cause I know the website mentions that he’s got, deuteranopia, did you go on to getting more formally tested after that or have you just relied on those sorts of tests, Ishihara and other bits and pieces.
Kathryn: I took him to the optician and the optician said: Oh, he might have a few problems with colours. I can see what problems he’s going to have. I know he’s going to have a lot of problems. Um, and that was when I realised that generally opticians only use the basic Ishihara test, which is really good for diagnosing children or anyone, uh, with colourblindness. But it’s no good at telling me what type or severity of colourblindness somebody might have. So I did some research and found that they were various university departments that would do full testing. Um, and I took him to one of those and we went through the fall gamut of tests to find out exactly what type of colourblindness he has. But most people don’t know that. They don’t know that they can do that for a start, and for a second, they don’t realise that a diagnosis of red-green colour blindness mean a whole range of different things and uh, it’s not the same condition for everybody.
Euan: Yeah, we should definitely talk about that in a minute. So most people think it’s red-green. Don’t realise that they’re, while they’re probably there are four, pretty much four conditions, four categories, if you like within that, um, I actually went to… I did an earlier episode on colourblindness, where I just talked about my own experience. I actually went to City University in London and got formally tested back in 2010 actually and I’m protanopic. So I have really abysmal, if nonexistent, red cones, um, I guess is how they would put it. And um, so that’s going to be quite a different experience. And at the interesting thing about chatting to somebody else about colourblindness is that, what I have noticed, is though it is relatively common, is that actually it’s relatively uncommon to have this exact, I have, I’m not sure if I’ve actually met another protanopic. Probably they’ve all been deuteranopia or deuteranomalous. Yeah.
Kathryn: Huh. If you go on our Twitter feed you will find a lot there.
Euan: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so just those little conversations when we certainly you come across people who say they’re colourblind and then realised that experience isn’t quite the same, um, necessarily. So we should talk a little bit about the different kinds of red, green colour blindness.
New Speaker: Sure. So both of those types can vary from mild to severe. So my son’s got severe green vision loss and you’ve got severe red vision loss. Um, but other people might have very mild forms of either of those, so they are much more easily able to distinguish between colours than you obeyed. Um, but you will see things quite differently to my son depending on what colour you’re looking at. So I know that you will have generally have problems between distinguishing between red and orange, uh, between, uh, dark shades of Brown, green and red. And you might confuse those with lack protonopes very often can’t redirect against black. Uh, which is a big problem because quite a lot of information or instructions on the internet or on a phone or whatever, sorry, red text on black or black text on red. Websites use those combinations. So it’s very difficult for you, but my son wouldn’t have that same problem because red gives him a greater contest of light, then it gives you. You would also probably have problems with confusing blue and purple, so, so will he, um, he will, he’d be more likely to confuse similar shades of, uh, tone of reds and greens than you will you probably more easily be able to see red than him because against green, because to you read will be darker. You will mix up, um, deep pinks and mid-blues and you mix up, um, bright green and bright yellow. He’s less likely to do that. Um, but he will mix up mmm. Grays and pinks, which you are all less likely to do. So there are subtle differences, but they’re also very similar issues that red-green by both types of colour blindness can experience in a similar way just because the position where the eye picks up greenlights in the position where red light picks up on the light spectrum to very close together and they overlap. So as an overlapping issue in the between the two conditions as well, uh, it’s very difficult to explain to somebody who’s colourblind, what they’re seeing differently to another person who’s colourblind because you’ve not seen the normal colour of the version.
Euan: I know, I think it’s just a, it’s one of those bizarre, kind of becomes a slightly philosophical discussion. Often when you have this conversation with people about, you know, you can ever be inside someone else’s head and we’re all very alone in that regard and know what someone else is seeing so that people start to wander off in that tangent. When I’m, when I’m explaining, I often draw the three little sort of, um, uh, uh, little curves of to demonstrate how the overlap. Um, the three little red, blue and all wavelengths and frequencies and that often cause then you can start to see how you’re not, you know, you’re not blind to reds. There’s a bit of this sort of the green code that tails off into those frequencies at those wave lengths I should say. So you can sort of see the difference and there’s some interesting things. I don’t, I’ve never noticed a problem with blues and pinks actually these, you mentioned there but I do have terrible trouble with yellows and greens and sometimes the bright green, I just do not and Yellow, I cannot pick them apart at all. But it doesn’t, actually that doesn’t crop up too often in my daily life that I’ve noticed a problem. Well yes. That’s interesting cause I was going to come on to talk about football because I just thought I was looking at the website and find that amazing resource from the UEFA for the FA all about that huge document actually addressing it. I know you’ve been involved in that I think. Yeah. So I was going to come back to that. But yeah, that’s probably when I’ll have noticed it that when you, I can’t tell, I, I sometimes am, I now I’ve got children, they are pointing out my errors to me all the time. Which is quite handy. And so I have a standing joke in that regard in the family about kind of yellows and greens. Um, I’ve, and that’s probably why I’ve noticed it more about just that things like bright green or bright yellow icing on cakes and stuff that I can’t tell apart. Um, I have also noticed that, um, there was no such thing as purple. Yeah. It just doesn’t exist. And I refuse to accept the existence of purple. It’s just, it’s funny off blue.
Kathryn: It’s got a hashtag its called blurple
Euan: I hadn’t come across that.
Kathryn: No, I don’t think anyone who’s colour blind can tell the difference between blue and purple.
Euan: Yeah. Yeah.
Kathryn: Except that purple might be darker.
Euan: Yes, that’s it. Sometimes that’s what I think. That’s it. So it’s a slightly odd blue. He doesn’t quite look right. I can’t distinguish why. I just know it doesn’t look quite right sometimes for a blue But I have bought many items of purple clothing in the past, completely oblivious to it.
Kathryn: You are not on your own!
Euan: So, um, I should ask, we, one of the things we should move on to is, it’s all, you know, a lot of people we might think, wow, it’s just one of those little strange little wrinkles only happens to a tiny number of people. We should tell folk about how many people are affected and in what sort of ways their life can be affected.
Kathryn: Well, millions is the answer even in the UK there’s about 3 million colourblind people because it affects men the way it’s inherited on the x chromosome means that men are much more likely to be colourblind than women, I think most people are aware of that, but maybe not the numbers. 8% of men. Yeah, we have a Hashtag one in every classroom is at least one child in every classroom. I know. It’s one in every football team or most sporting teams that are male only. Um, so huge numbers of people worldwide, we’re talking over 300 million people.
Euan: It’s astonishing isn’t it? I like. I think the one in every classroom, you’re underselling yourself slightly aren’t you because it probably is more like one in every, you know, there’s a good chance is one in every team. Um, and it’s actually the, one of the things I’ve written about in the past is the effect of the cricket bowl. It’s a particularly obvious one. Football, it does affect us, but the red ball and a green background and cricket has always been a bit of a disaster. And there have been some studies looking at that as well haven’t there.
Kathryn: Yeah. I mean there cricket really brought things to a head by introducing a paintball and night day tests. Which I was pretty annoyed about because, they knowingly brought that in . Yeah. Having that, that colour blind players wouldn’t be able to see it very easily and then dropping them from the team. So that got quite confronted quite quickly.
Euan: Yeah, Have you been pushing at them, Kathryn, have they responded as whole,
Kathryn: We’ve had meetings with them but the apparently we don’t have enough money to do the research.
Euan: The research being done, the, there’s research already there. I’ve certainly reported on it in the past that the colourblind cricketers are underrepresented in the highest echelons of the game.
Kathryn: Yeah that’s specifically on that pink ball.
Euan: Interesting. You don’t really need research to know it’s pink.
Kathryn: No. It’s that they don’t. It’s cause most people don’t understand about colourblindness. They don’t understand why it is a problem. And because of the name of the players they’ll say well sometimes it’s okay because they don’t like to be dropped.
Euan: Yeah of course.
Kathryn: Uh, so it really needs research on retired cricketers who are colour blind and who have been screened to work out what type of severity of colourblindness they’ve got. I mean, they need the technical research to be done. Um, and it was all set up to be done and then they said, oh, we haven’t got any money, so they are not gripping it. So yeah, I think that still is yet to keep repairing, and it’s not got to the end of the line because it’s stuff potentially affecting careers.
Euan: Yeah, we should, we should talk more about that as well. I tell you if we’d be happy to be involved in any kicking in that regard. Um, so there’s the whole cricket thing and that kind of, and say one in every team is an interesting kind of thing. The only thing I would say about the cricket, I think Ian Botham is supposed to be colourblind, isn’t he? So it doesn’t always, it doesn’t always affect the, um, the most able of cricketers. Um,
Kathryn: No, no, you’re right. And it’s in the circumstances. So, um, as the light fades it gets worse. If you speak to cricketers they will tend to say they can see the ball moving. It’s the speed, the speed of it. They can see against certain backgrounds. It’s when it lands on the floor and they’re supposed to pick it up and throw it back. If they are fielding they have more problems with it than they do as a bowler or batter.
Euan: Y`eah. Well especially in the highest levels because as a batter you’ve got a sight screen anyway and bowling you just don’t need that side of things. Interesting. I used to play a bit of cricket. I know it was quite a, I was up rubbish batsmen in a rubbish bowler, but I was quite a canny fielder. Wait. But, um, well I think one of the things I probably would be better at though is actually I was better in close because as soon as it was a distance away, there was more chance of the bowl disappearing into the brownie-greeny background. Yeah. Um, so sort the high level and then I was in trouble. Um, but when it was relatively close, it that often didn’t happen then you could pick up the movement.
Kathryn: Yeah, exactly. That’s what the players do tend to say, yeah, I don’t know. I’ve never played cricket. MMM. It’s difficult because you’re not going to get the red ball removed . Yes. It’s fundamental for the game and people like Botham to say well not me. But what we don’t know really is how severe his colour blindness is for a start. You know, so there’s a lot of work to be done in cricket, but what I would say is it seems to be that protonopes have more problem with the pink ball then deuteranopes do.
Euan: I do. I hate watching sport with a pink bowl and they introduced it into football a little while ago as well that there was, I think it was a champions league ball had an element of pinkness to it. Um, it might, it might be my, I might even be the World Cup. And to the extent that I couldn’t watch the games, that I just kept losing the bowl, which is no. Yeah. So I’m not sure which. Do you remember which, which tournament or game it was?
Kathryn: It know what it was, it was the FA cup.
Euan: Ah Yes Yeah.
Kathryn: Yeah. That was interesting because that was what got us into football in many ways. Cause I wrote to, um, yeah, the chairman at the time, Greg Dyke, and said now listen, you should know all about colour blindness. Are you still on the BBC? You can’t do this. And uh, as I did, they did very quickly get onto that, um, and redesigned the ball. It normally takes them two years to do a new ball redesign and they did want it in about six months. So they got rid of quite a lot of pink off the next iteration. But it’s, you know, nowadays you’re not going to get a hundred percent perfect football because of the sponsor that are attached to them. Um, they need, they need a different type of ball for every match. Almost, you know, if they could get away with it , maybe they would so that they could sell more versions. Um, and I was bit concerned actually, about the Champions League ball for the finals this year because it’s mainly red with white panels. Um, and we did quite a bit of research on it and it works on television, but a lot of the players who were colour blind, there aren’t many players that are colourblind that speak out. But the ones who we know of that we’ve got access to said, uh, it’s okay to watch but I wouldn’t have liked to play with it . But there we are.
Kathryn: But they are still using it.
Euan: Yeah. And it’s because, I mean, all these things about sport, just such fine margins, you know, they, when you’re kicking a football at high velocity that’s coming at you speed, even the tiniest of miscalculations, you know that they’re not going to be necessarily instantly obvious, but they, they’re going to have a cumulative effect.
Kathryn: Yes. Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There’s so much work to be done on all sport to do with colourblindness, the implications and how you can get marginal gains by doing certain things. Um, and no sports probably taken this on board yet, I have to say, even with all the work we’re doing in football, it’s still got a long way to go on that. That’s cool.
Euan: This football and cricket, are there any other sports there that have got similar problems? I might have missed, not thought about?
Kathryn: Well, any team sport that play with different coloured team shirts .
Euan: Yeah, sure. The kits the issue. Yeah.
Kathryn: There’s the kit issue that came up massively in America about four years ago in the NFL. Where there was something called a colour rush competition that was introduced in the very first match. The Game was all red against all green. So within a week, the NFL had to say, right, okay, we’ll never ever again in the future to do a colourblind kit clash. Don’t you worry about it? Because there was so much controversy of assets, um, comes up in hockey. MMM. The spectators more than anything. Um, the women’s hockey final, which England won in the last Olympics was against The Netherlands and that was red against black, which is a protonate, you know, would be a bad kit clash for you. So people couldn’t tell those teams apart who was spectating.
Euan: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Interesting.
Kathryn: Yeah. And then it’s the equipment, you know, um, sports you wouldn’t necessarily, so I really think about like canoeing.
Kathryn: Well kayaking, if you were to do that high level, you wouldn’t be able to tell necessarily whether you were supposed to be going forwards through a gate or reversing going backwards through the gate because that’s controlled by different colours. MMM. Sailing. That can be a problem. Anything.
Euan: We can come onto a little bit, maybe talking about briefly about careers and things, but sailing falls into that category that particularly just the, obviously the use of red, green as the standard colours of port and starboard, starboard and port. Yes. Um, is just a disaster.
Kathryn: Yup. Yup.
Euan: I, I know that use a different shape buoys and other things as well, but you know, obviously, you know, I just say something like sport, when you’re at speed, you’ve got very little chance. If you can’t do that more or less than instinctively, you’ve got no hope.
Kathryn: I agree with you. And I don’t mean those been any research done that. You can buy a new boat, a motor boat and you can go straight onto the sea and be colour blind and not know anything about any, any navigation. Nevermind whether you’re colour blind or not and you’re, you’re allowed to be loose on the high seas. So I think we’ve got a long way to go before they’ll start looking at this, the colourblindess implications, but from, um, uh, I suppose commercial sailing angle, uh, merchant seaman or anything to do with the Navy, you definitely won’t get through if you’re colour blind.
Euan: No, I think that’s probably just digressing into the career thing where people also taught, well you can’t be a pilot. That’s the thing that I got told when I was little. Um, but actually probably more significantly cause actually anything like any career, maritime based careers, probably you’ve had it as well.
Kathryn: Most of the military, what happens quite often is that people leave school and decide they want to go into Oh, the army side and will put them through their paces and they can get right the way to the very end. And the only thing they’ve got left to do is pass the medical. And at that point they’ll find out that they’re colourblind and it can completely shatter their dreams. Something they’ve looked forward to for many a long year, but then what they get as well, you can’t do what you want to do, but you could still be in the army or wherever. But we’ll let you be assessed and I find that scary in itself. You can be a chef and be colourblind and potentially poison an entire battalion because she can’t tell if the chicken’s cooked properly. There need to be proper procedures in place to ensure that colourblind chefs, are not going to do that kind of thing. Um, but also even something as simple as chopping board. They are all colour coded. So you don’t put raw meat on the same board as somewhere that you’ve just been chopping up some salad for example. Um, but if you’re colour blind, you don’t necessarily know which board you’re using. So I would love to know what the procedures are in place to ensure that that sort of incident can happen.
Euan: Yeah. I should confess something first that I was in the army actually as a doctor, I was CP4, Colour Proficiency 4 which means can’t pass CP3. So they knew I was colourblind. Um, but doesn’t, but you know, it didn’t, it didn’t stop me being in the army in that regard. But I was trying to remember what stage they actually tested me and whether, I think you’re right, that I was quite a way along the track. I would have thought they did it because the medical examination is called the PULHEEMS. And I think it still is. Um, at what point they do that. But I just say as devastating to get all the way through to get a, you know, a long way through and only find out later. It’s all an argument for, it’s all an argument for trying to ensure people find out early, isn’t it?
Kathryn: Exactly. And that’s one of the fights I’ve got at the moment is with school screening. Yeah. Because that was phased out in 2009 off the back of some, well there’s something called the Hall report, which was done by the Department of Health. And I think, I don’t know, but my reading of it was, it was to save some, save a few quid. So it was what can we basically get away with no longer putting into the healthy child screening program? And they relied on the study of people born in 1958. Uh, so it was the 1958 cohort who knew they were colourblind or not all the way through school. And they looked at how many O levels and A levels I got when they came back to school and concluded that colourblindness. quote, “conferred no educational disadvantage” because they said, well, the colourblind children are getting O levels and A levels in the same proportions as children with normal colour vision and they are going on to do the careers that they want to do. And nobody in 2009 seems to have said. Well hang on a minute, when those kids were in school, everything was in black and white, didn’t even have the Internet. But if you write to a minister now complaining about colourblind issues, as you can imagine, I do quite often that always gets credited back. That same piece of evidence/research, “confers no educational disadvantage”. Which is obviously completely rubbish. And I, I already have seen this year an inset from uh, an exam paper an AS paper on geography, which is not colour blind friendly. And that’s five marks that a colourblind candidate potentially could miss. So I’m fighting really hard to get colour vision screening reintroduced at school entry. So that least those children can apply for access arrangements for exams and know what careers they may struggle with. I’m not saying they shouldn’t try and go for it. But they might struggle with…. Well in advance of leaving school, taking their options even, it’s a big fight.
Euan: Absolutely. I’m just saying by the career thing is you’re not necessarily excluded did, you can use just at least you’re in a position to get yourself more formally and assessed in detail to find out what your abilities or disabilities are. Without that, what I was looking for, and I’ve always wondered and I haven’t found any good evidence for this and I’ve seen it in studies, in bits and pieces. Do you have you any sense? So do you know any research which shows what percentage of men and women, because it does affect women as well, though obviously much less frequently are actually colourblind. No sorry! Don’t know they are colourblind!
Kathryn: Well, what I can tell you is that, no, in terms of formal scientific papers, because there’s hardly any research on colourblindness. But there’s hardly anything. Um, but we do studies of children when we go in and we’re asked to screen in schools, um, we’ve got sort of an informal study running, but it’s, it’s interesting because it goes across different socio economic groups, different types of schools, different areas of the country. And it’s consistently showing that by the time children hit year seven, which is the first year of secondary school normally, um, 80% of children have not had a colour vision test. And uh, 75% of them have had an NHS eye test, with an optometrist. So what it’s showing is that optometrists are not screening as well as schools not screening. And it’s therefore unlikely that when they come out at the end of school, they will be still be. Well, they are all still likely to remain undiagnosed because the chances of the optometrist picking it up. Between them starting secondary school and finishing, it’s unlikely.
Euan: Well that’s really interesting. I do, I wasn’t really interested the optometrist looking at it either, I mean one of the really, there’s obviously huge gaps in the research here and I suspect, cause I, I, I looked at this, I’ve looked at this over the years and I suspect I’ve got most of the papers in my little library that do exist. And there are, there’s really a very modest number, but I was just looking just before we spoke today about some of the more recent papers that have come out and there’s some interesting papers emerging about the use of smartphones and online technologies. As you said, at very beginning that they were just starting to appear to test people and they would seem, they might meet some of the criteria for being good screening tests to at least start picking up. So the cost implications could be extraordinarily low.
Kathryn: Well, yeah, I mean health visitors, not health visitors, school nurses already go in and do eye tests.
Kathryn: I did an article with the British Journal of School Nursing a couple of years ago and the school nurses were saying why have they taken it away. We are actually going into school and it takes a minute to do a colour vision test, two minutes tops. Why, why can’t we just do it. And then the schools would be able to support those children from day one instead of not knowing about them all the way through school.
Euan: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I think I was relatively easy to pick up probably because I was protonopic, so it’s fairly profound. I was just looking at my results actually on the Colour Assessment and Diagnosis test. And apparently I’m over 18 times the normal threshold for red, green. [laughs] So I’m really rubbish, um, on that side of things. So I’m very much protanopic. And so I was, you know, I was merrily painting pink elephants and purple skies, which is was my kind of how I got picked up, I think when I was very little even. But I’m old enough that I would have been screened anyway. Um, so I got picked up. Um, what other, so one of the things I say, well there’s obviously this sort of the disadvantage at school potentially and examinations and other things and there are some other careers that we should mention. You had mentioned the maritime thing is a big thing. Um, army possibly, flying could be a factor, can’t it. Anything else spring to mind that it’s going, you know, potentially a big disadvantage for people who’ve got colour vision deficiency,
Kathryn: You can’t go into the fire service at the moment. But you can be a paramedic. You can be a police officer. There was legal cases, both about that. Um, but there’s a controversial problem going on at the moment where they are saying that every police officer should be issued with the Taser, but that then, um, precludes coloured blind people because they’re saying… So it’s all technical to do with the way that the Taser works and it has a, a red light that shines on the person who’s about to be tasered and whether or not people who are colour blind can see it. Uh, so bit of a red herring, to use a pun, as far as I can see. Because it could mean that potentially, all colourblind police officers lose their jobs if that goes through. So you can imagine they’re all going up in arms about it, but technically you can be a police officer at the moment. Medicine I would say, we’ve had quite a lot of issues. Um, you know, you would say I can’t see a rash without somebody else telling me whether it’s there or not. I would imagine. Um, there are quite a few issues with histology slides and that kind of thing. So I pick up bits of information to do with medicine. Um, I think I know that lots of people who are colourblind, are doctors, are in medicine in some way, but it must have its challenges. I don’t have the experience of that.
Euan: Well I would say is, yeah, I should answer that. Obviously I should address it. There’s been quite a few studies which have looked at this and I think by Spalding who’s wrote about this a lot over the years and gosh, yeah, there are clearly some challenges. I actually, I don’t have difficulty seeing rashes for some reason, even though I’m protonapic and quite badly, so I don’t seem to struggle with red rashes. And I think there’s enough of a contrast with the white skin. I pick up the contrast in it. It still looks reddish to me. So I don’t know, that hasn’t been a personal problem, but I know that that has been identified as a potential issue for people who’ve got, who are colour blind to some degree. Um, I sometimes wonder when I’m looking in the backs of throats and in ears, whether I’m seeing the redness, but I think there are other cues you pick up, um, that make me realise I am, I know I seem to find a reasonable success rate. Though, some of the evidence that was done, there was some studies done by Spalding, which suggested that actually we’re not as good as we think we are…. You know, that that’s the bit of that recognition, the Dunning Kruger effect, that people when they are incompetent and they overestimate your own abilities. The, um, uh, the other thing is urine dipsticks. Goodness me, they are a nightmare. If you position them carefully, I can see the tonal differences. I’ve just got to position them carefully and not rely on the colours. If I’m at all unsure, particularly seeing pinkness because there’s one particularly for nitrites on a urine dipstick that you rely entirely on seeing the level of pinkness it changes to. Um, I will sometimes I have to, I sometimes will ask patients or a colleague. There are bits and pieces. I realised very quickly when I was in medical school that I was never going to be a pathologist because of the histology element. Um, and I think actually I would have struggled with surgery, even differentiating, in a body cavity, when in a surgical field with the different… the colours are quite important cues to work out which organs are which.
Kathryn: I’m glad you said that because I’ve always said to myself, I’m never having a colour blind surgeon operate on me, now I know about. it. That’s just me being ultra cautious and not having anything to base it on except…
Euan: Yeah. It would be very difficult to know because I think in the real world, I think all these sorts of things I’ve described there, I think, you know like as GP looking in ears, nose and throat, so looking at rashes, there are almost always other cues that you can use as well. And whether or not they compensate sufficiently or the differences then are so marginal that it doesn’t have a real world effect. It’s difficult to know. Some of the evidence would suggest it does have an effect but. Goodness. I think it’s, if you don’t know you’re colour blind, if you know you’re colour blind, you’ve got more chances. Go goes back to the not knowing as well.
Kathryn: Yeah. Yeah. I have a colleague here, yes, who i’ve known for years, previous career and he always used to say, oh, he’s never, I’m quite steady. Colourblindness has never caused me any problems. Am I in now lets me quote him because he is doing work with me now. And he’ll do report s something that I’ll say, oh no, it’s not that colour. I said, Oh okay. Or he’ll have missed something that I can see. Yeah. MMM. I think I’ve in a way taken a bit of his confidence away, which I feel bad about it because he’s not realizing that, huh. Of the things he did in the past or at least, yes. That happen every day that he, thinks he’s okay about but doesn’t realise that he’s missed something.
Euan: I think that’s right. It’s just the unknown unknown’s or you just don’t know. You’re not competent and that’s a real problem. It’s a real challenge. And the work you’re doing, you know, highlighting these issues. Uh, it is, um, it’s important though, cause if you’re making mistakes and you don’t know you’re making mistakes, that’s the worst case scenario. And as a doctor that just the kind of thing that, you know, could horrify me, we’d always horrify me in that regard. Um, one of the things I would mention is that just that as well as kind of the professions, one of the things as adults you have to be asked to do sometimes about spot blood in body fluids. And actually there’s a, there was a, there was definitely a study on this which looked at picking up, you know, your ability to pick up blood in different body fluids and find out we were rubbish at it as a general kind of in the, from the colourblind perspective. But that affects everybody who’s colourblind. And there was one study, I know it was done just down the road from me in Preston, which looked at bladder cancer and colourblindness, which showed that people who are colourblind, we’re more likely to present with later stage bladder cancer. Yeah. This the speculation, the hypothesis being that you are not very good at seeing blood in your urine, so you don’t pick up the fact that you’ve got a problem until much later on. So that’s the kind of like an awareness thing. I don’t think it’s being picked up at all. I, one thing I thought was really interesting about this, and I did try to, I spoke to my other job at the, with Royal College of GPs as I spoke to one of the leading primary care researchers into um, colon cancer in screening and flagged that I thought there was a real potential problem with men. Obviously men being most common, but people who are colourblind, not being able to notice that they’ve got blood in their poop and so missing one of the most important cues of potential bowel cancer. Uh Huh. That got some are summarily dismissed in terms of being regarded as a topic of interest
Kathryn: and I’ve tried to raise that a few times, you know, social media with various charities or whatever when they’ve had the day, no bowel cancer awareness week or whatever. Always do something about that and nobody ever responds.
Euan: Yeah. The interesting thing is it got, it’s been, my argument was we should have screening therefore for people who are colourblind. Actually that’s been slightly superseded by the fact there is now a national screening program in the UK. So in fact actually the most people are going to get swept up in that anyway. But it would be, I think it’d be, there is an argument that it’s particularly important people who are colourblind know that actually doing the screening program or possibly even doing it from an earlier age would meet the useful threshold. That kind of of the screening program.
Kathryn: Uh Huh. I’d agree with that. But as the generations go by, all the years go by as less and less and going to know they are colourblind. So already we’ve got a whole generation, almost of people who are colourblind not being diagnosed. My son, we find that by accident, I don’t know because he’s so good at hiding it. Even though he’s severely colourblind. I still have my doubts that had that one incident not happened, we would still not know. Um, and I quite often have meetings with people even who went through that generation, um, my age group where we were all screened at school, who, who will realise in a meeting that I’m having with their team that they’re not seeing colours the same way as everyone else and that they are colour blind. So, yeah, all the way through there, we’re going to be people who don’t know they’re colourblind, so they’re still an extra risk and I don’t know what you do about those. But then this my son’s generation where we know that children are not being screened, they’re not going to be able to be identified because they were never screened at school. So they don’t know.
Euan: It’s worse than that in some ways because even though that generation of ours that was screened that’s not documented anywhere, it’s not on their medical record, because if it was and it was read coded, there would be incredible potential to determine whether or not what impact it has on health, if any. Um, and um, there’s no way of doing that. You’ve got to kind of do all retrospectively in terms of finding, which is extraordinarily difficult to do, is extraordinarily difficult to get the numbers that are big enough. So, I mean, if anything, if we’re going to have a screening campaign with kids, we also need to make sure it gets coded on the computer system. So the actually then, and then 10, 20 years time, you could do the most amazing studies, um, to determine what effects, colour, vision deficiency really does have
Kathryn: I don’t know what to say about that. It would just be so amazing. So I get a politician to even talk to you about colourblindness. Don’t even have that conversation is impossible. Impossible and it’s such a waste and it’s wasting NHS resources by not putting it into effect now. But how you actually get anyone to take that seriously? I don’t know, maybe thats your new mission
Euan: Don’t tell me… To be honest I’m gathering missions like slightly ridiculous rate at the moment. But um, one thing I should ask is I’ve been, I’ve been oscillating here between colourblind and colour vision deficiency. And I know that this was something that you’ve wrestled with and came to the conclusion that you were going to call it colour blind. But I wondered if you could just talk us through that for a minute.
Kathryn: Well, I know that people don’t see colour, particularly those with the red, green colour blindness. I’m not blind to colour. MMM. I know most people wouldn’t really notice them. I haven’t actually said it so far in the conversation, but blues and yellows stand out really well for people who have colourblindness, um, a lot of the advice that we’re giving for a stadium safety for example, with the world, what would they in football is to highlight fire exit signs in yellow because we know that colour stands out to somebody who’s colourblind. Um, but therefore they’re colourblind people are not blind to colour. Um, and it’s a useful fee for people who are colourblind. Some colours are, um, colour vision deficiency is a technical term. Yes, colourblind people are deficient in their ability to see colour normally. Um, but most people don’t know what that means. So if I was to try and raise awareness as an organization, the people with colour vision deficiency, I know nobody would engage with me because I tried it. Um, but everyone knows someone who’s colourblind. They all have a funny little jokes. They can tell about what that poor person did. At some point, you know that they are keen to tell you about it because it’s a story they know and they think they understand colourblindness. So it’s an opportunity to engage. MMM. It’s the, the reason that we use colour blindness is within the title of, of our organization. Just we know that people know what that means.
Euan: Yeah. I think it’s hard enough when you’re raising awareness and people are not engaging. If you don’t, if they don’t even know what the condition is to start with you are, you get your, you know, you’d like to think at some point in the future it might become possible to transition to that kind of colour vision deficiency. But at the moment you’re just creating an almost impossible hurdle to get over aren’t you.
Kathryn: Yes. And we asked, we asked a focus group for colourblind people, how would you like to be described? And they basically said the same thing. You know, we know we’re not blind to colour. Some people, even said when they got the diagnosis, they thought they were going to go blind, which is quite scary to think of a young child thinking they might go blind. And it’s nothing like that at all. Um, so it is still open to misinterpretation. But overall they said, people know what I’m talking about. If I say I’m colourblind and they dont if i say colour vision deficiency or even CVD, which in medical terms, mmm. That’s cardiovascular disease. So that’s also confusing, but I tend to use all three if I’m doing a report or whatever, I’ll say colourblind brackets, colour, vision deficiency, CBD. Um, because all of those different terms, are used,
Euan: I was going to mention just a little bit about football again cause we, we touched on it, but there is just incredible report, uh, at the FA’s website isn’t there? That was, yes. You know, like 70, 80 pages I think of information about colour blindness
New Speaker: Yeh I know, I did write it
Euan: Yeh well exactly, fantastic. It is amazing. Um, it’s really, I don’t, I haven’t, I didn’t know existed to my shame, um, until I was browsing through the website earlier this week. And um, it’s fantastic. So I kind of, you know, you’re to be congratulated. And the interesting thing about that is I look at all the pages and I can’t tell them apart at all. They looked like the two pictures of the same thing. Yeah. So I was about like, Ooh, I’m not sure I’m missing the point here because I am colourblind. Oh, whether impact it has on somebody who’s got normal colour vision. Um, but there’s some great stuff there. Um, I, I, I would love them. There are so many games I’ve tried to watch the telly, which I’ve had to abandon because of the red green thing or it’s just, I’m not, I can’t do anything with these teams. It’s hopeless. And the obsession with changing the kits every year obviously is a massive problem. And in the bizarre, away kits they come up with is a real challenge,
Kathryn: We’re making some progress, some progress, so the premier league do now take it into account when they are deciding on kits for games but they are still constrained to a large extent by the fact that kits are agreed years in advance and signed off on the deals with sponsors which have an effect. Um, but whenever they can, they now tell teams to switch kits if it’s possible to do that, to try and avoid the kit clash. But it still happened. It’s still happening in the Champions League it happened at the opening games of the World Cup this year.
Euan: Um, yeah. I can’t remember what that was.
Kathryn: I don’t know. Saudi Arabia and Russia. But we now as a result of it we are finding the players who are colour blind. So we’re just hoping that once a couple of those… we can get a current player to speak out and I think that’ll be a game changer, again it’s a pun I don’t want to use, but you know it will be because the world of football will then properly take notice. Where at the moment were dabbling around the edges and nobody is willing to properly confront from the sponsors and all of that side is so touchy. It will change over over the next five years. I think that’ll be a big change. Actually getting kit regulations changed is very controversial but I’m not giving up.
Euan: No. That’s clear. So there’s two things I want to mention just at the very end of the first thing is I’d written down LEDs cause you mentioned that. I think perhaps earlier that’s one of the things in my daily life I have the biggest problem with is red and green LEDs for when an LED goes from red to green or green to red. You know, it’s only two or three millimeters across. That is, I have got no chance of that. I can’t tell when my Kindle is charged. They’re all new endless devices which use red and green and they often have quite significant safety elements. There’s a safety element to those as well. Um, which is quite a worry. So I just thought i’d flag that because you’d mentioned it just about to point in types of people that you just, I, I rely on my children to tell me when to take things off charge nowadays.
Kathryn: I think that’s one of the biggest frustrations for colourblind people, I’d say.
Euan: Yeah, yes it is right up there. I bet the other thing I would just want to ask you about finally, it was about what’s, you’ve had some success with the BBC just to tell us very briefly about what you’ve been doing with their, and you know, the kind of the, I know that you’ve enjoyed some success in getting them to change.
Kathryn: Well. It’s a bit of a mixed bag with the BBC. Yes, we did. Four or five years ago there was, there was a big problem with the election graphics that they used, um, and they were not willing to make any changes whatsoever. So I had to fight them right the way to the top. And they were told by the trust, to create some, basically there were guidelines, for online information, anything digital. They had to be colour blind friendly. Um, but they didn’t have anything, um, for broadcast information. So they were supposed to create some broadcast guidelines. And they’ve yet to be seen. I don’t know where they are in the process. I’ve been cut out of that. Um, so I don’t know, but in theory that’s supposed to be rectified and it isn’t. And there were still problems that come up all the time with graphics that they use on the website. And uh, so yes, we did have some success, um, but not as much as I might have wanted. But then again, a couple of weeks ago, they invited me onto BBC breakfast to raise awareness of that. The issues in education so yeh that’s fantastic. Can’t say more, than great thanks for that opportunity . Um, and sometimes they’ll write quite long articles. So they did a big piece on that World Cup match and introduced it, a topic of football and sports and everything. Um, but it’s a very, very diverse organisation, yet so many people with so many different interests that they want to cover and what we are still really, really lacking. Is a documentary that actually explains to people, it’s like a bigger version of the BBC, the BBC breakfast piece in a way. Showing what it’s like to live day to day with colour blindness so that people’s families can understand what they’re putting up with instead of laughing at them. I might be a bit more sympathetic and, but also crucially for education in careers and businesses need to know more about what they are missing out on. Yeah. So much information that business is put at the colourblind people just chuck straight in the bin. Yeah. It’s such a waste of resource. Um, so yeah, you could cover that. I could talk about it for weeks. I won’t do that to you now because it’s a massive topic. It affects everything.
Euan: Yeah. It is, It is astonishing. I’ve done, I’ve always known that, but I guess I’ve kind of have been guilty. I know I joke about it myself and everybody, there would be hardly a person here I worked with at university who doesn’t know I’m colourblind because I always, when something gets showed and I can’t see, I make a point of highlighting that, I can’t see it, so they would certainly know about it. But, um, I perhaps I’ve been guilty of minimising it as well at times and making a joke of it, which, you know, I know, I guess the risk is that although I don’t feel particularly stigmatised by it, a lot of people might feel stigmatised by it and they might feel very anxious about their jobs, whether you know, the, the, and their employment and what their, what their employer is going to do to them if they find out.
Kathryn: Yeah, that’s definitely a big issue
Euan: Listen Kathryn, you’re doing amazing work. Tell us where we can find out a little bit more about everything that you’re doing and what’s going on.
Kathryn: Oh, well, the main source of information is our website, which is colourblindawareness.org, but we’re also quite active on social media mainly on Twitter. So the Twitter handle is @colourblindorg. And I have to say, I think that’s possibly the best thing that I’ve created because it’s gives people who are colourblind an opportunity to talk to other people with the same issues so you can all laugh at the same jokes from the same perspective of the person involved in the joke, rather than the butt of the joke. And yeah, spread your own stories if you want to or ask questions of the community. And I think that’s been great to see how that’s grown and how many people are sort of full time members of that and fully active part of it. And then other people get in and out as and when it suits… So that’s @colourblindorg
Euan: That’s absolutely fantastic. We’ll make sure we get links to those up for sure. So that people can find them without any difficulty. Kathryn, that’s been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Kathryn: Thank you very much.