I went to a meeting this past week and all the handout pages were varied colors. There was a pink page, a yellow page, and so on. Unfortunately, I am severely colorblind and it seems that very few folks ever think about that “invisible disability.”
“Now, refer to the pink page,” or “We’ll be placing the green page in the folder just before the tan page.” I am always at a great disadvantage when these “scripts” are followed because I can’t TELL which page is which color. Why don’t people think about colorblindness and other invisible disabilities? The answer is less difficult to imagine that one might think.
Answers.com tells us that “evidence from opticians is that about 10% of the male population who have been tested have been found to have some kind of defect in their ability to distinguish between colors, but the percentage is much lower among females. In some cases the defect is caused by a defect in the function of the person's eye rods or cones of his retina, and in others a defect in the nerve cells in his brain. Full color blindness, where everything appears monochromatic is extremely rare, believed to affect less than 0.1% of humans.”
Well, of COURSE. If so few people are colorblind (and even fewer of us have a more severe form of the condition), it’s no wonder most folks don’t give it any thought at all. In fact, I have experienced having folks scoff at the idea, as though it is not big deal at all. How might THEY feel if they unintentionally drove through a red light into cross traffic because they were in an unfamiliar area in which the traffic lights were placed left (red) to right (green), but the driver could not TELL which color was which and had never seen traffic lights in that configuration? Been there, done that, and it is not as much fun as one might think.
I consider myself lucky. I know that the majority of the people who have learned that I am colorblind have not viewed the condition as a “disability” at all, but it is. Some have laughed, as though colorblindness was a joke. Some have asked to know more about it, but haven’t seemed to see it as a serious issue. No, it’s not the kind of disability that requires treatment or special permit, but a disability that causes one trouble from time to time, nonetheless. I could have killed someone when I ran that red light in an older section of town or could have been killed myself, along with my family. Maybe when they saw the newspaper headline about the colorblind man who ran a red light and killed another family, people would more clearly see colorblindness as the invisible disability that it is.
How many other invisible disabilities might be experienced by people we meet every day? Spinal pain that has no visible sign. A speech impediment that one would not “see” without hearing the person. A reduction in hearing. A reduction in sight in one or both eyes. There are a variety of invisible disabilities that can make it difficult for another person to navigate his or her way through life, including the workplace. Most of us don’t give those issues a second thought. Maybe we should start.