Red light, green light

ara Macho

Shades blur together for colorblind students

Bernhard Mechenbier, sophomore aeronautics major, was diagnosed with color blindness prior to pre-school. The color green appears white to him.

Credit: Andrew popik

The only way for Bernhard Mechenbier to remember when to go at a traffic light is to memorize the location of the green light on a stoplight. The sophomore aeronautics major was diagnosed with colorblindness prior to preschool.

While at the eye doctor, Mechenbier failed to correctly identify what number was nestled among the minuscule, multicolored dots on the color plates.

Teri Cottrill, an ophthalmic technician at Western Reserve Eye Associates in Streetsboro, said one in every 10,000 people has some degree of colorblindness.

Colorblindness not only affects an individual’s vision but other aspects of life as well.

Because of Mechenbier’s colorblindness, he is forced to change his career plans.

Mechenbier, a cadet in the Air Force ROTC program, can never be a pilot in the Air Force because many instruments are color-coded. Instead, he can become an aeronautical engineer.

Colorblindness is also starting to hinder the artistic abilities of Jordan Daly, sophomore visual communication design major. Jordan and his twin brother, Seth, also a sophomore visual communication design major, are both colorblind.

“It’s getting pretty challenging with art. With our major we have to look at photographs, and if there’s a red tint or green tint, we’re not going to notice it.” Jordan said. “That’s really going to be bad because the clients are going to notice it. It’s just something that is really going to mess things up.”

What is colorblindness?

According to an article distributed by The Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institution, colorblindness is a disorder that affects the cones, or receptors for color vision. The article said when someone is colorblind, it is usually because his or her eyes do not make all the pigments needed for color vision.

Tyre Proffer, associate professor of biological sciences, said colorblindness is an X-linked recessive disorder. It is more dominant in males because they possess X and Y chromosomes and do not have the second X-chromosome, like females, to cancel out a trait.

Colorblindness is diagnosed in children when their parents notice they cannot detect colors, said Tricia Miller, a technician at the Novus Clinic in Tallmadge.

Technicians test for colorblindness using Ishihara Color Test Plates.

The plates were created by Dr. Shinobu Ishihara in 1917 and are still used today by eye doctors worldwide to test for colorblindness, according to the Kappa Medical, Inc. Web site.

The site reports that each plate is made up of a large circle of different sized dots of slightly different colors. Within the dot is a number in a contrasting shade. Depending if the number is visible, it determines what form of colorblindness an individual has.

Living with colorblindness

Colorblindness changes the way an individual perceives color.

Seth said a color will look like whatever he thinks it is.

“If someone tells me that it is something different than what I’m seeing, then I’ll see it differently,” he said.

While Jordan said his colorblindness may someday hinder his art career, Seth said it adds style to his work.

“Teachers like it because I’ll accidentally do the wrong color. If something is really supposed to be blue, I’ll do it in purple,” he said. “It makes my work different and unique.”

Seth has learned to live comfortably with his colorblindness. Pointing to a red coat, he said, “If I thought that was brown and you told me it was red, that would change the way I perceive it. Otherwise, I just go with it.”

Mechenbier shared the sentiments. “If someone were to tell you the grass is blue, you would think that everything that color is blue,” Mechenbier said.

Jordan said he does not try to change the colors he sees.

“I just let the color go past. I’ve been doing it for so long, I figure I might as well stick with that color,” he said. “It’ll just screw up my perspective on everything if I try to change them.”

For Dan Freeman, a freshman computer information system major, a traffic light near his home always gives him trouble.

“It’s a flashing yellow light, but I see it as orange,” he said. “When I get to that light, I always slow down and make sure I don’t have to stop.”

Freeman keeps his opinions to himself when he sees colors.

“I know if I see certain colors, they might be different,” he said. “I just don’t say anything about what colors I see.”

Colorblindness not only affects the way individuals perceive colors but also affects they way they perceive seasons.

Mechenbier dislikes autumn because he cannot appreciate the beauty of the season.

“I hate the fall because everyone is staring at the trees and thinks it’s all pretty,” he said.

During the Christmas season, Mechenbier has difficulty as well.

“If there are red letters on a bright green background, I don’t see the letters at all,” he said.

Mechenbier is red-green color-blind. The color green appears white. He has dealt with his colorblindness.

“It’s not really difficult. You just learn to live with it,” he said. “You don’t even notice it ’til you say something stupid, and everyone points out that you’re colorblind.”

Ben Galloway, senior aeronautics major, discovered he had a suspected color deficiency in August of 2004. After he was selected to be a pilot for the air force, Galloway needed to get medically cleared. Galloway missed two more plates than was allowed and failed the eye exam.

“Until I pass the test again, I can’t fly,” he said.

Although Galloway has only a slight suspected color deficiency, flying an airplane could potentially be life-threatening.

“They said I was so bad that colors at night would be reduced to black and white,” he said.

When an airplane is landing, being able to detect the colors of approach lights is essential, he said.

For Galloway, an extremely light green shade will appear gray. He said his deficiency is incredibly mild.

Distinguishing the full spectrum of colors depends on how an individual perceives them.

Living with colorblindness may seem challenging to an outsider, Mechenbier said as he struggled to explain how he perceives colors.

“You just learn in your own way what the colors are,” he said.

Contact features reporter Sara Macho at [email protected].