How Can I Tell if My Friend is Colorblind?

The reader question below points out a very delicate topic. Not everybody wants to admit to others and even more importantly to himself, that he or she is colorblind. And because color blindness is not something which is obvious and you know anyway like your height, it’s not easy to find out if such a person really is colorblind or not.

How can I tell if my friend is color blind? Are there certain colors he will wear or certain things he will do? I think he might not want to admit it, but I wonder. I am afraid to ask. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

As written in the question, somebody confronted with a maybe colorblind person, which doesn’t like to talk about it, is in a uncomfortable position. Should you start talking about it and ask? Or should you just sit back and wait until you’ll find out anyway?

I will offer you two different ways to tackle this impasse. As I recommend the offensive way warmly to you, the defensive way can be an equally valuable path for you to follow along.

But before we dig into some possible solutions, we have to have a closer look at the term colorblind. As there are many different types of color vision deficiencies, it’s important to know what we think of when saying my friend is colorblind.

By far the most common form of color vision deficiency is red-green color blindness. About 8% of all men are suffering some type of it. Actually red-green color blindness can be split into four different subtypes. But all of those have a lot in common:

  • Red-green colorblind people can see many colors but differentiate them more in terms of brightness and saturation than hue.
  • The color axis red-orange-yellow-green-brown is the most challenging if you are suffering it.
  • There is also a line of colors ranging from blue-green to gray and over to some purple hues which are difficult to tell apart.
  • If you are suffering only a mild form of red-green color blindness you might even not be aware of it.
  • A lot more men than women (< 0.5%) are affected.

There are some other types of color blindness, however they are only very rarely observable. Knowing this basics lets us reformulate the question to the more precise statement:

How can I tell if my friend is red-green colorblind?

The Offensive Way: Ask him.
I know, this doesn’t sound like the right way to you. But it’s definitely the best way. Let me tell you why and how you can do it.

First of all you have to learn about color blindness as a not colorblind person. You will find a lot of material about it on Colblindor or on the web. Some interesting facts are:

  • Color blindness can occur in very mild forms which are no handicap in everyday life.
  • Colorblind people often have problems to match the right clothes, know when a fruit is ripe or if they have a sunburn.
  • If you are colorblind, you often can’t spot red/orange/yellow blossoms and flowers.
  • There is no cure for color blindness but most people easily learn to get along with it without feeling handicapped.

If you learn more about the challenges of a colorblind person, you can offer appropriate help. You not only have to wait every time until you get asked (or often not get asked) but just help out as it would be the most normal thing. This can be a great support for a colorblind person, for example in a shop when he likes to buy a new cool tie which of course should match his shirt.

Through your knowledge about color blindness you can go the offensive way and ask him. But not only ask if he’s colorblind, he might not even know it. Tell him, how you could support him much better in some everyday tasks and how it could help you a lot more to understand how he sees the world.

You might like to ask him to have together a look at some color blindness tests and find out if he has some deficiency and how severe it is.

Color blindness is nothing to be ashamed of, there are to many of us.

The Defensive Way: Don’t ask him.
Often you really feel to afraid to ask or you don’t want to hurt his feelings. Therefore I would like to explain you some ways which might help you to find out if your friend is colorblind or not.

Shopping for Fruits. A colorblind person often has problems distinguishing a ripe fruit from a unripe or even an overripe one. If he often buys unripe bananas this might be a clue.

Matching Clothes. If you are colorblind you can not match your clothes very well. You can’t see which colors do match and therefore often either wear only few colors like black and white or otherwise wear sometimes clothes which do not match in color at all.

Pastel Colors. I can’t tell you why, but colorblind people tend to prefer pastel colors. Not always, but more often then people with normal color vision.

Colored Crayons. A huge box of colored crayons, this is some of the worst which can happen to somebody suffering from color blindness. Usually a colorblind person chooses a small box of color crayons with not to many distinct colors which are always in the same order and well distinguishable.

Colorful Flowers. When wandering around or in your own garden, if you are colorblind you definitely will have some problems spotting nice flowers and blossoms. Usually from the distance you wont see them; everything might look green to you. Only coming closer or if your friend tells you about them, you will be able to see for example red or orange flowers.

Cooking Meat. If your friend is colorblind, he also will have some problems to tell if meat is cooked well just from the color. The color change is usually to small to spot and he often will ask somebody else for a judgment.

Skin Color. Colorblind persons have problems to see slight changes in skin color. They don’t see if somebody goes pale/green and looks sick or if he has a sunburn or not.

Maybe through this seven hints you will be able to find out if your friend is colorblind or not. If you have the strong feeling, that he really has some type of color vision deficiency I would like to encourage you also to think about the offensive way and finally ask him.

I hope this tips were of some help to you to find out about the color blindness of your friend or just to learn more about your colorblind partner. Maybe you also would like to know How to Support Your Colorblind Husband which includes some more advises how to handle color blindness if it doesn’t affect you yourself but your partner, friend, workmate, …

2 responses on “How Can I Tell if My Friend is Colorblind?

  1. vin

    How can I tell if my teacher is color blind? I really can’t do either the offensive or defensive approches to find out. If they’re any ways that you can think of please let me know.




  2. Daniel Flueck Post author

    Vin, you might like to try some of this ideas:
    – “Heard about color blindness. Can you tell us something about this.”
    – Do some homework ‘color related’ and see how he reacts on it.
    – Push him to use colored chalks to mark certain things.
    – Use colors when you explain something and see how he reacts.
    – Listen carefully. Does he ever talk in colors or not?

    But the best way definitely would be, to just ask him. But as you said…