Red and Blue Sensitivity in the Audience

March 20, 2019

Four legendary color blind painters from Russia

 


While the title of this blog post may give us the impression of a phenomenon that occurs among a few people, a lot more people—millions are affected by this insensitivity: The issue is of color insensitivity, or ‘color blindness’ as it is popularly known.

In all my years of being an educator it had never occurred to me that some of my students could be color blind. To give you a bit of a precursor; early in the year I was lecturing a crash course of content I usually cover over a semester. It was fast paced with lots of visuals to aid in knowledge transfer. With winter vacation courses it is often the requirement for students to understand content in a shorter time frame due to the condensed nature of the course. One of my students would travel for more than an hour from another campus to take the course. A very pleasant young woman who would make conversation with me on the days she would arrive ahead of the scheduled class time. She would participate actively in class and be a pillar of academic support to her group. At the end of the class she would cheerfully bid me farewell.

Sujin- her name, on the first class of the second week seemed a little forlorn. At the end of the lesson she hesitantly approaches me saying something about a ‘PPT’ and ‘brightness’. These two words where highlighted in here communication with me, and judging by her teary frazzled demeanor there was clearly a problem. I knew something was the matter but didn’t know what. Sujin being a second language learner, I requested that she tell me what the problem was in another way (paraphrase) to help me understand. She then opened up her notebook to reveal notes she had written during class. I read the isolated words ‘red’ and ‘blue’ on the notebook page. “What about red and blue I ask?’ perplexed. “Mr. Heritage, on the PPT, it is bright. I cannot see red and blue. I can see black”. As she fought to hold back the tears I of course reassured her that she would be accommodated, going further to say she was not the only one who could have this issue. My response was pure guesswork at the time, with no real facts to substanciate what I had just said. What aggravated the issue according to Sujin was that she was ridiculed by her team members. It turns out that in prior classes she would reluctantly request her team members to read out the red and blue content off the PPTs. She’d frequently be met with, “I can see the PPT just fine, why can’t you?!” Some students can be brutal and often don’t do well with fellow students that stick out like a sore thumb. Living in an Asian Confucian shame based and competitive culture it made sense why she felt frustrated; she felt her classmates had an advantage over her, which was clearly not the case once I’d adjusted my visuals to accommodate her. The playing field needed to be equal.

As a curious and concerned educator I did some research afterwards and it turns out that 1 in every 10 of us is color blind. According a color blindness awareness organization, people with normal vision use all three light cones in their eyes correctly. So 9 out of 10 of the human population are referred to as trichromats. People with faulty vision are referred to as anomalous trichromats. People with reduced red sensitivity are protanomaly color blind, while those with blue insensitivity are tritanomaly color blind. Sujin was both.

The appeal is this; educators who command large lecture halls have a higher probability of having color blind students in their audience. Be it a business presentation, a conference, a classroom, etc., you’ll be making your visual presentation more inclusive by being aware and sensitive of the visually color limited in the audience. It takes little effort to ensure the font colors in your visual presentations are inclusive. Adjust your PPT to accommodate students that may have this visual impairment. makin  visual impairment. presentation more inclusive by being aware and sensitive of the visually color limited in the audience. It takes little effort to ensure the font colors in your visual presentations are inclusive. Adjust your PPT to accommodate students that may have this visual impairment.

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