Category Archives: Professions

Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association

I suppose the most prominent job and its problematics when it comes to any type of color vision deficiency is the job of beeing a pilot. Many young men wish to become a pilot and to fly airplanes but struggle on their way because of their color blindness.

This topic has been discussed on Colblindor already quite often. Either if it is about a Study on How Color Blindness Affects Pilots, about an Unreliable Secondary Color Vision Tests for Pilot Candidates or about a New Color Blindness Tests Sets Minimal Requirements for Professional Flight Crew. There is even some form of Color Blind Testing Guide for Pilot Applicants and some discussions going on in the Color Blindness Forum, for example the question: Should colorblind people be admitted as pilots?

Homepage of Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association

In March 2012 Dr Arthur Pope incorporated the Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association. The goal of this Association is to tackle the issue of a confuse approach when it comes to the regulations concerning color vision, to question its standards all around the world and to give support to those who feel unfairly treated as colorblind pilot candidates.

Dr Arthur Pape who was instrumental in two successful legal challenges in Australia in the 1980’s regarding the color perception standard in aviation. He is also coordinating actual legal challenges and wants to have the discriminatory standards removed. On the CVDPA Website he makes the following statement:

The aviation colour perception standard is a regulatory device that we say contributes nothing to the safety of aviation and the travelling public. It has no place in the modern aviation environment

It unfairly discriminates against many tens of thousands of individuals world-wide who have defective colour vision, who want to be professional pilots and who are perfectly capable of doing so.

The Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association’s Mission

  • Fight for the rights of all colour vision defective pilots to have an unrestricted career path by challenging the Aviation Colour Perception Standard.
  • To show that the aviation colour perception standard is founded on discredited assumptions and has no evidentiary basis
  • Establish a fighting fund from subscriptions, grants and sponsorship that will be used to fund challenges to the aviation colour perception standards in all worldwide jurisdictions
  • Promote and disseminate the outcomes of two existing pivotal court cases in Australia where most CVD pilots now enjoy full and unrestricted careers, at all levels of professional aviation
  • Give voice and organization to the countless thousands of CVD individuals and work to secure an end to irrational regulation

If you wish to get further information on this topic, to read some articles, to contribute your own personal story or to support the CVDPA, please visit their website at Colour Vision Defective Pilots

Colour Blindness and Medicine

The following article was written by Anthony Spalding, one of the authors of the site Colour Blindness and Medicine. Please read on what he has to tell us about this interesting topic and visit this great site with a lot of useful information for all colorblind people interested in medical careers.

The aim of the website is primarily practical. It is to give information on the practice of medicine for those with colour vision deficiency. There is a sizeable body of evidence that this deficiency is a problem in medicine:

  • Medical practitioners report difficulty seeing the redness of inflammation and fresh blood in body products.
  • They have difficulty recognising pallor and the body colour changes of jaundice and cyanosis.
  • The colour stains in histological preparations can be a problem as can the colour codes used in charts and instrument displays.

There is the risk of medical error with adverse consequences for patients. Moreover, medical practitioners may be anxious about the risk of error and have diminished confidence in their diagnostic ability.

Colored Pills – a problem for colorblind doctors and patients.

In a survey of colour vision deficient medical practitioners some made remarks such as “You do not necessarily know when you have a problem – others point them out” and “The problem is I do not know what I am missing” and “I feel I am very vulnerable … there are times when patients describe red rashes and I cannot see them and nurses point out the invisible dots.” There are large numbers involved because it has been shown that the prevalence of colour vision deficiency is the same in the medical profession as in the population at large.

The situation in the medical profession is complex without any immediate solution to all the problems it presents. Among these problems are

  • the varying degrees of severity of the deficiency,
  • the different demands on colour vision made by the different specialties,
  • and changing technologies in medicine.

In addition there are at present few with adequate training to give the needed advice. It may well be that optometrists if they are made aware of the medical aspects will be the best group to advise individuals towards their career choice. This will be appreciated by medical students: in a survey of 155 color vision deficient medical students by Burke a common refrain was that they did not get advice and support to help them deal with their problem with colour. Seventy-four per cent of Burke’s sample said that it would be useful in their future career to have a full colour vision assessment so that they knew the type and severity of their defect.

The issues involved are sensitive because the safety and care of patients is involved and also the careers of medical students and qualified doctors. It is not surprising that those responsible for standards in medicine have been reluctant to make definitive statements on this issue. We do not advocate the introduction of a colour vision requirement for entry to medical courses.

We take the view that all medical students who have abnormal colour vision should be aware of their deficiency before entering a medical course, and of its severity, have an appreciation of the kind of problems it may cause in their chosen career, and avoid those careers that may cause unavoidable problems. They will then be readier to seek advice and better equipped to find ways to avoid their problems.

Color-Blind Observers for National Defense

Here is an interesting little story about colorblind people working for the army. This story was published in the Time magazine on the 5th of August in 1940—so quite a while ago.

One man in 20 is color-blind in greater or lesser degree and for that reason ineligible for training as an Army Air Corps pilot or observer. Last week the Air Corps’s School of Flight Medicine reported an interesting incident.

In a plane at Fort Sill, Okla. early this summer, an Air Corps observer was able to spot only ten of 40 camouflaged artillery fieldpieces on the ground. An observer of the Field Artillery in a plane spotted all 40 and accurately plotted their positions on his map. The explanation: the artilleryman, selected under less rigorous examination than the Air Corps man, was colorblind. Camouflage, designed to deceive the normal eye, fooled him not a whit.

Last week, at the School of Flight Medicine, clerks combed the files preparing a list of candidates rejected for color blindness. But the Air Corps still wants no color-blind pilots. A pilot must be able to distinguish between colors in Very signals, field lights, etc., where a mistake would be costly.

Found at National Defense: Color-Blind Observers.
Thanks to Vasile from Discromat for sending me the link.

Living with Color Blindness

“Which color is that?” is an often heard question if you are colorblind. You get used to it. You also learn how to handle it like most other difficulties which arise from your color vision deficiency.

I this article of the Color Blind Essentials series I would like to have a closer look at the every day life of a colorblind person and also at the impacts this vision handicap can have on your career choice.

Color blindness in everyday life

Most people think traffic lights are one of the biggest issue for everyone suffering from a color vision deficiency, but they are wrong. The colors for traffic lights are very well chosen and they are always arranged in a certain order. So this is not a problem at all for most colorblind people even if some states don’t allow you to get a drivers license if you are colorblind.

Bananas Big - Normal
Bananas Big - Deuteranope

Original and its color blind simulation.

But there are some real handicaps for people who are suffering from some moderate to strong color vision deficiency:

  • A Sunburn can’t really be seen, only if the skin is almost glowing.
  • If meat is cooked can’t be told by its color.
  • There is no difference between the colors for vacant (green) and occupied (red).
  • Flowers and fruits can’t be that easily spotted sometimes.
  • And you can’t tell if a fruit or vegetable is ripe or not yet.
  • Every electrical device which uses LED lights to indicate something is a permanent source of annoyance.
  • Colored maps and graphics can sometimes be very hard to decipher.

By far the most biggest issue is matching colors and specially matching clothes.

If you a have a color vision defect you can’t just choose flowers which fit together nicely, or a painting which fits with the furniture, or a carpet. You also can’t create a web site or an image with nicely matching colors. And you will never be able to easily match your shirt with your tie, your trousers with your shoes, your whole wardrobe.

In this case you need a pair of color enabled eyes which help you out. I often borrow the eyes of my wife and sometimes those of my son. They really help me a lot. ;-)

Choosing your career as a colorblind

A color vision deficiency often gets more attention when it comes to choosing a future career. Specially parents are very concerned about possible restrictions. But also young people ask themselves, if the job of their dreams will stay just a dream because of their vision handicap.

Professions that require good to perfect color visionAirline pilot
Air traffic controller
Police officer
Train driver
Some ranks in the armed forces
Some electrical/electronic engineers

Jobs which require good color vision can be split into two different categories. In the first of them color matching or color recognition is a main component of the job. This for example includes color quality control, art teaching, interior decorating and more.

This group of jobs is easy to decide about for colorblind people as each one knows best himself if he will perform well in such a profession or not. Most colorblind people can also accept this fact more or less easily.

The other category includes jobs which also require good color vision but only in support of the job itself. This group includes the job profiles of pilots, firefighters, police officers and more. These kind of jobs have the following facts in common:

  • Bad color vision is a security problem in this job.
  • Passing a color blindness test is required to qualify for the job.
  • The impact of a color vision deficiency is not well described.
  • There is no international standard on color vision requirements.

The points listed above unfortunately make it very complicated. Many colorblind people believe that they still could perform in such a position perfectly and that turning them down just because of their color vision deficiency is not correct. Some people even start thinking about how to cheat on such a test just to get through the exams and get the job of their dreams. But this is not the right way to go.

Here is my six steps plan towards your future career:







(1) Learn. During your time at school learn how you can handle colors. Learn about the severity of your color blindness and learn your special techniques to get around your handicap. This way you are very well prepared when it comes to choosing your future career.

(2) Inform. Get all possible information about the job of your dreams and possible handicaps for color blind people. You can get information from a prospective employer, from special authorities like the FAA for pilot candidates and of course from the internet. It’s important to check your local requirements as they can vary between different countries.

(3) Talk. Try to find some people who are working in this job and talk to them. They will know the best if there are special tasks which might be a problem and you will know from your personal experiences, if you will be able to handle and also most important if you will feel comfortable in such a position. First check your relatives, ask around in your neighborhood, maybe you will find somebody at the college and otherwise I’m sure you will be able to find somebody online who will be happy to help you out. Just check forums where those people could hang around.

(4) Communicate. Don not try to hide your color vision deficiency. Be honest and communicate it if it might be a problem. Of course you only have to do this if color vision could be a possible handicap. But it is important to inform your prospective employer what you learned about the job to be done and how you overcome those handicaps despite your imperfect color vision.

(5) Go for it. Don’t forget to take the last step. Do the required tests to learn more about your color blindness. You might pass without any problem and you might fail. You maybe also like to try different employers as there are in most jobs no national rules concerning color vision deficiency.

(6) Discuss. Did you fail the color blindness test and did they use the Ishihara plates or some similar form? Read the chapter about color blindness tests to learn about other possible tests. This should help you to start a discussion about the used test and if maybe this test was just to restrictive. There are many different tests available and sometimes it would be even much better if your prospective employer would just check possible job restrictions and if you can handle those or not.

And please don’t forget the fact, many people have some form of handicap which is a burden and sometimes becomes a big obstacle. Get used to your color blindness and try to accept that moderate to strong color blind people shouldn’t dream to work for example as a pilot or a professional firefighter. If you can’t accept this, don’t try to cheat on the tests but start a discussion about it!

Red Apple - Normal    Red Apple - Protanope

Left: normal red apples — Right: colorblind red apples

We are colorblind. We can’t name colors. But we can handle most situations perfectly even if we don’t know correctly which color it really is.

In the next and last article of the Color Blind Essentials series we will learn if there are any possibilities to cure color blindness.

Photos taken by clairity and Muffet.

New Color Blindness Tests Sets Minimal Requirements for Professional Flight Crew

The current situation can be quite frustrating. If you want to become a pilot you have to follow a complicated color vision test regulation. And even then most weak colorblind applicants are still rejected which seems to be an unfair decision.

Color Assessment & Diagnosis Test

Because of the lack of reliable, standardised tests and the absence of information on the specific colour vision needs of professional flight crew, the UK Civil Aviation Authority supported by the US Federal Aviation Administration initiated this study.

A team around Prof Barbur from the Applied Vision Research Center in London was mandated to find the minimum color vision requirements for modern flight crew, and a new color assessment and diagnosis test. This was the last part of the study after The Use of Colour Signals and the Assessment of Colour Vision Requirements in Aviation and a Task Analysis which included two operating case studies: the Airbus A321 and Boeing 757.

Dr Sally Evans, Chief Medical Officer at the CAA, says:

“The current diversity in colour vision testing methods and standards demonstrates the need to adopt more objective assessment techniques internationally. If the assessment methods and limits derived from this study were applied as minimum requirements for professional flight crew, 35 per cent of colour deficient applicants would be eligible for medical certification as a professional pilot. The CAA intends to promote this research internationally with a view to gaining acceptance of the CAD test and its incorporation in world-wide medical standards for pilots.”

This sounds very promising for all colorblind pilot applicants! So let us have a closer look at what this new color blindness test is all about and how they reached this new results.

Color Assessment & Diagnosis Test

The current procedures within JAA for pilot applicants are unsatisfactory for at least two reasons.

  1. There is no guarantee that the deutan subjects that pass secondary tests can cope with safety-critical, color-related tasks, since the severity of their color vision loss remains unquantified.
  2. Many color deficient subjects that can carry out such tasks safely fail the lantern tests and will not therefore be allowed to fly.

This findings and many detailed studies on color vision deficiency resulted in a new color blindness test, the color assessment & diagnosis test (CAD test). The subject’s task is to report the direction of motion of a colored square on a gray square background with dynamic luminance contrast noise. This new developed color vision test has shown in a broad study to be very accurate in identifying type and severity of one’s color blindness.

The subject’s color vision severity is measured in Standard Normal units (SN units). If your result would show a red-green threshold of 2 SN units this would mean, that you need a twice as strong color signal compared to a average standard CAD observer. This threshold can be quit different for deuteranomalous and protanomalous observers as a limit to pass the PAPI test. Details on this are shown in the conclusions.


The Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) was indicated as the most important, safety-critical task that relies largely on color vision. On this basis a PAPI simulator test was developed to quantify the severity of a pilots color vision deficiency which is still safe to fly. This simulator can be used in controlled laboratory environments.

PAPI Test Simulator

The simulator reproduces both the photometric and the angular subtense of the real lights under demanding viewing conditions when the lights are viewed against a dark background. Since other color-related tasks such as seeing the color of the parking lights or the discrimination of runway, center-line, red and white lights are less demanding, it is assumed that the pilot will also be able to perform correctly these tasks.

The aim was to identify type and severity of color vision deficiency which cause problems with the PAPI test and correlate those results to the CAD test results. In principle, this approach should make it possible to recommend pass/fail limits based on the observer’s ability to carry out the most safety-critical and demanding PAPI task.

Principal conclusions

Safe to Fly:
36% Deutans
30% Protans
35% Overall

The very promising results suggest that subjects with minimum color blindness that does not exceed 6 SN units for deuteranomalous observers and 12 SN units for protanomalous observers perform the PAPI test as well as normal trichromats. If these findings were adopted as pass/fail limits for pilots ~35% of color deficient applicants would be classed as safe to fly.

  • When the ambient level of light adaptation is adequate, normal aging does not affect significantly either red-green or yellow-blue thresholds below 60 yrs of age.
  • Analysis of PAPI results shows that the use of a modified white light results in significant, overall improvements in PAPI performance.The modified white is achieved simply by adding a color correction filter.
  • 43 of the 77 deuteranomalous subjects failed the PAPI test. 29 out of the remaining 34 subjects that passed the PAPI test had CAD thresholds < 6 SN units.
  • 20 of the 40 protanomalous subjects failed the PAPI test. 13 out of the remaining 20 subjects that passed the PAPI test had CAD thresholds < 12 SN units.

The study also concluded that the administration of the CAD test eliminates the need to use any other primary or secondary tests. When one includes normal trichromats, ~94% of all applicants will pass the so called fast-CAD screening test and be classified as safe to fly. This process is very efficient since the fast-CAD test is simple to carry out and takes less than 30 seconds to complete.

Official CAA news:
CAA research paves the way for more people with CVD to become pilots
CAA Paper 2009/04:
Minimum Colour Vision Requirements for Professional Flight Crew

Can the Sun Change Color Perception More Than a Mild Color Vision Deficiency?

Brett wants to become a pilot. But he is suffering from a mild form of color vision deficiency which disqualified him.

He is now looking for any possibility which could show, that in some cases weak colorblind people are not less suitable than people with normal color vision as there are many factors which can have quite an impact on your performance and which you always have to be aware of.

Read his request, you might be able to help him:

I have been diagnosed with mild deuteranomaly and have been disqualified from USAF pilot training. I am currently working to get an exception to policy that would allow me to still go to pilot training, and I know how difficult this will be. But I need help with research for my exception to policy package. Today I came up with a simple but interesting idea and tried researching but was unable to find the information I need.

The idea is that since I have mild deuteranomaly, my M (green) cones are shifted a few nanometers towards the L (red) cones. I also know that many other factors can affect the color perception of people with normal color vision, such as the position of the sun in the sky, weather, hazy, cloudy, etc… So what I’m looking for is a measure of how much the position of the sun would affect the color of an object. I’d bet the bank on the sun shifting light wavelength more than my condition.

I’ve looked into color temperature a bit and found at dusk or dawn sunlight has a color temp of approx. 3200 K and at noon its around 6500 K. My problem is I’ve been unable to relate this change of 3200 K to 6500 K to a change in wavelength (nanometers).

Any information on how much the sun would affect color perception, or how many nanometers a person with mild deuteranomaly would be shifted would be greatly appreciated.

I can be contacted at:

After reading his thoughts you maybe realized that your situation is quite similar. Hereafter you can read his whole story which might help us all to find a better solution to the problem, that many colorblind people are rejected from a job just because of some color vision tests, which are most of the time to unspecific and much to restrictive.

So I’ll start my story about 3 years ago when I began applying to become an Air Force Pilot through OTS. I was in my senior year at Virginia Tech working on my degree in Aerospace Engineering. After turning in my application to OTS I had to wait a while for the boards to make their decision, so I asked to have my flight physical done so that I would know if I was medically qualified before I even entered the Air Force. With the exception of distant visual acuity everything went well and I was given a waiver for my vision (20/200 uncorrected). I passed the PIP1 color vision test with 13/14 each eye. Unfortunately I ended up not being accepted to OTS and was quite disappointed.

Searching for what’s next, I found the possibility of a 2-year AFROTC program I could do while working on my Masters degree. I looked at school and was accepted to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Aerospace Engineering Master’s program and the AFROTC program their. During my first year their I was selected for a Pilot slot before even going to field training.

I went on to complete my work at Embry-Riddle and commission 3-MAY-09. I had to sit around all summer waiting to EAD but finally did on 3-SEP-09 and began to long drive to Laughlin AFB to wait for ASBC at the end of October, IFS, and someday UPT. I’ve been at Laughlin for just over a month now and received orders to go to Brooks AFB last Wednesday for MFS (Medical Flight Screening). At MFS they did a a few tests, but the only thing I was a bit worried about was my distant vision waiver. All of my tests went fine except for color vision. I scored 10/14 for the PIP1 for each eye failed a few other tests. They kept me for additional color vision tests and determined that I have hereditary red-green (deuteranomalous) green-weak, color deficiency. This is completely disqualifying for Pilot, Navigator, ABM (not sure about this one), Combat Control, Combat Rescue, Special Tactics Officer, OSI, Test Pilot School as an Engineer, and 99% of Astronaut positions.

This has been quite devastating since all of those jobs I listed have been my dreams and backup plans in case my dreams didn’t work out. Having them all stripped away in one day has motivated me to fight this to the end. I’ve been researching quite a bit to come up with anything I can do. I don’t really know who to contact but I’m planning to start with my commander. I plan to tell my whole story and explain why I believe I am fit for at least one of those jobs.

I’ve gone my entire life (24 years) without knowing I had any form of color deficiency and have accomplished a lot; I just don’t see how it can be so bad that I would be at a disadvantage now. I’ve read about potential advantages that red-green colorblind people have such as better night vision (which I found one paper going against this), being able to see “faster” (I haven’t found any scientific evidence), and most notably being able to see through and detect camouflaged objects more easily (still don’t have a solid source, just mentioned in other sources).

From what I can tell the only way I might be able to get around this is to get my commander or someone above him to write an “exception to policy” that would basically say that they are willing to take a risk on me since I might be able to make up for a deficiency with other aptitudes. Other than that, political figures may be able to use their pull somewhat to get me around this (but I know none personally).

If anyone has any information that may be useful to my cause please contact me at Otherwise I’ll be busy looking for other careers (which don’t require perfect color vision) that will be as exciting, dangerous, noble, and challenging (both mentally and physically) as that of an Air Force Pilot.

Color Blind Testing Guide for Pilot Applicants

If you want to become a pilot, you need to pass a medical screening including color vision—usually by taking a simple color blindness test. Even if you already received your pilots license, you have to go to a medical check up every 12 month, again including a color vision deficiency test.

cockpit-pilotsWhat are your choices to accomplish the FAA test for color vision—specially if this could be a problem for you as you know you don’t have perfect color vision? This article will show you the different possibilities you have to master this specific test on color vision deficiency.

There are two ways you can go to accomplish it. The first choice is always to take a usual color blindness test with your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). If you can’t pass this first round there is the possibility of retesting using some other color vision deficiency test which is accepted by the FAA. Or you can choose the second way which includes some special form of a very job specific color vision testing. But be prepared because this specific test can only be taken once and thereafter there is no other color vision test allowed anymore!

Let me explain this step by step in more detail.

First way: Accepted Color Blindness Tests

Any of the following listed tests can be taken to examine your color vision. If you fail one of them there is always the possibility to take another test of the list. I think this is a good rule as you can always have a bad day or be to nervous. So make sure that you pass in the second round. And it is important to know, that no other color blindness tests are allowed!

  • Pseudoisochromatic Plates Color Vision Tests: This tests are the most common ones and also known as Ishihara plates tests, because the first and very well known plates were made by Dr. Shinobu Ishihara. It is reported that the AOC and the Dvorine tests are the easiest to accomplish for people with color vision deficiency.
    • AOC (1965 edition)
    • AOC-HRR (second edition)
    • Dvorine pseudoisochromatic plates (second edition, 15 plates)
    • Ishihara pseudoisochromatic plates (concise 14-plate edition, 24-plate edition, 38-plate edition)
    • Richmond pseudoisochromatic plates (1983 edition)
    • Richmond-HRR (4th edition)
    • Tools which display plates: Titmus Vision Tester, Titmus II Vision Tester, Titmus 2 Vision Tester, Titmus i400, OPTEC 2000 Vision Tester, OPTEC 900 Vision Tester, Keystone Orthoscope, or Keystone Telebinocular
    • Electronically plates by LEDs: APT-5 Color Vision Tester
  • Farnsworth Lantern Test (FALANT): This is the only test allowed which is not based on isochromatic plates. The FALANT test consist of two little lights showing one of the colors red, green, or white which have to be named correctly. It is reported to be the easiest test to accomplish.

For detailed information about the allowed number of errors in each test check the decision considerations for AMEs at the official FAA website.

Many people ask if it is allowed using color correcting lenses or glasses while taking a color vision test. Unfortunately the rules say clearly, that you are not granted to do so.

Second Way: Specialized Operational Medical Tests

If you fail the above tests and still want to try to get your license, there is a last chance for you. But it is very important to know, that this second possibility of test can only be done once and after that you are not allowed to take any other test again. So this is really your last chance!

The specialized operational medical test consists of five different test steps. The first two parts are subsumed under the name Operational Color Perception Test (OCVT) and you have to accomplish them during day light. The last three steps are called Medical Flight Test (MFT) including also in-flight testing.

  1. Signal Light Test (SLT): Identify in a timely manner aviation red, green, and white.
  2. Aeronautical chart reading: Read and correctly interpret in a timely manner aeronautical charts, including print in various sizes, colors, and typefaces; conventional markings in several colors; and, terrain colors.
  3. Read and correctly interpret in a timely manner aviation instruments or displays.
  4. Recognize terrain and obstructions in a timely manner.
  5. Visually identify in a timely manner the location, color, and significance of aeronautical lights such as, but not limited to, lights of other aircraft in the vicinity, runway lighting systems, etc.

Make sure you are fit while taking this test, as it can be taken only once. But if you can master it you will receive a Letter of Evidence (LOE) which means, you will never have to take a color blindness test again during your pilots career.

If you fail the color vision testing during your medical exam you will have the restriction of not valid for night flying or by color signal control.

There is also an interesting study about Unreliable Secondary Color Vision Tests for Pilot Candidates and you can also find a lot more information on this topic at

Color Blindness in Medical Jobs

Color vision deficiency is a very common disease—specially among men. So there have to be also many colorblind doctors and health professionals. Do you know if your medic is colorblind? And what if he really is, did he take some wrong decisions because of his color blindness?

Perfect or good color vision is not yet a precondition for any medical jobs. And there aren’t many studies about color vision deficiency and how it affects medical skills. J. Anthonny Spalding did a research on exactly this topic about ten years ago and brought together some interesting and still newsworthy results. He called his paper Colour vision deficiency in the medical profession.

Several studies in the last century have shown, that color vision deficiencies are occurring at about the same rate for doctors as for the population at large. In one of those studies, colorblind doctors were asked about their most common problems caused by their color vision deficiency:

  • body color changes of pallor, cyanosis, jaundice, and cherry red
  • rashes and erythema of skin
  • charts, slides, prints, and codes
  • test-strips for blood and urine
  • ophthalmoscopy
  • blood or bile in urine, faeces, sputum, or vomit
  • otoscopy

This is a quite impressive list of diseases which could be wrongly diagnosed or overseen by a colorblind doctor. If they know about their color vision deficiency—not every doctor knows about it—they try to overcome it by closer observation, asking others, and paying more attention to the patients medical history.

By taking greater care and the fact, that there are many diagnosis not involving colors, it is widely accepted that your colorblind doctor performs as well as a non-colorblind medic. There are also not really any serious errors known based on a misjudgment of a doctor suffering from a color vision deficiency.

But still, there are some situations where color blindness could be the cause for wrong decisions:

  1. If a single sign of observation is essential to take the correct action.
  2. Scanning of an area for the detection of small features (bacilli, rash,…).
  3. Special work conditions like speed, alone, and poor illumination.

Dr Spalding concludes, that all this points to the need for screening for color vision deficiency for medical students and doctors. Which could specially be used for better counseling and an informed choice of career. But he also believes, that because of the wide range of specialties, the question of non-acceptance of applicants to medical school need hardly arise.

Does Color Blindness Disqualify from being a Firefighter?

It is quite well known that a lot of police officer applicants are disqualified by their color blindness. But what about if you would like to become a firefighter and you have a color vision deficiency? Do the same rules apply?

I’ll share my thoughts with you after the following personal story I received by a reader of Colblindor.

I’ll give you a bit of history on myself. I have recently taken schooling to become a firefighter, and seem to have run into a wall due to a color deficiency which I have. Funny things is I went to an ophthalmologist about 2 years ago and was cleared for the D-15 test with 0 errors.

But the next time I took it I convinced myself that it was suppose start with blue and end in green as the doctor did not say it was to fade into red. For some reason thats what I thought it was the last time I took, while I was doing it though I knew it was incorrect. When the doctor pulled it from me obviously it was horribly wrong. So he sent me for further testing during which i did D-100 plus lantern. The D-100 I used one eye at a time and it was difficult. End result I have been diagnosed with severe color blindness. And yet I can do the D-15 online with 0 errors and the confusion test with decent results as well as 1 wrong in ten.

Wondering where you might recommend getting some solid answers as there seems to be a lot of ignorance in the medical field and the fire department. I went through fire school with no problem, as well as the rest of the courses I took with no problems what so ever, and now they tell me that my colorblindness is a hazard. Anyway, right now I am quite frustrated and looking for answers as this is what I want to do—yet I feel that I being discriminated based on ignorance of color blindness.

Now this sounds pretty unfair. You accomplish everything just perfectly and only your color blindness should disqualify you to become a firefighter?

Has color any importance for firefighters?

As you know every fire has its color or better said consists of a whole range of colors. The colors not only tell us something about the burning substance but also are very closely related to the heat of a fire. For example a red fire can have a temperature between 977°F (525 °C) with a just visible red and 1830 °F (1000 °C), a cherry, clear red.


Also smoke has a color which can tell you a lot about the elements making up the smoke you see. And as any smoke can be very heavily toxic it is important to be able to distinguish different shades of color. At different stages of a fire the smoke color changes and therefore it is important for a firefighter to be able to interpret colors appropriately.

This are only two reasons why good color vision can help you to be a professional firefighter.

How firefighter applicants are tested for color blindness.

Often a standard test will be used to test if you have good color vision or not. Some type of Ishihara plates are very well known and often used. But you could also come across any type of arrangement test or a simple lantern test.

If you look at the following recruitment information of three different Fire and Rescue Services, you will see that it is very common to ask for good color vision. But the rules for color blindness can differ between the recruitment centers.

  • Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service
    The minimum standard accepted by HFRS is the Farnsworth D-15 standard test.
  • Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service
    You must have an appropriate level of colour perception, if you are found to be colour blind, we will send you for more tests to determine if you can work safely in a safety critical environment.
  • Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service
    Potential firefighters are subject to certain entry requirements specified by law. Applicants should be aged 18 and over; have good eyesight, not suffer from colour blindness.

NFPA: color vision deficiency doesn’t disqualify you


In the latest edition of the Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments (2007 Edition) published by the National Fire Protection Association the rules concerning color blindness have changed. The following Report on Proposals makes it clear, that a color vision deficiency doesn’t disqualify you anymore from being a firefighter.

Formerly, color vision deficiency was listed as a Category B* medical condition. However, it is felt that within most cases this condition will not affect the ability of a member to safely perform the essential functions of his or her job. The fire service physician should consider the color vision deficiency of the individual and consider the color vision requirements of the member’s job and reach an individual determination.

*Category B: A medical condition that, based on its severity or degree, could preclude a person from performing as a member in training or emergency operation environment by presenting a significant risk to the safety and health of the person or others.


How to apply as colorblind firefighter

First of all you shouldn’t just forget about becoming a firefighter just because you have any kind of color blindness. As written above there are many different rules used and views are changing for the benefit of colorblind applicants.

So if you apply just be honest and tell them the truth about your vision. It won’t help you if you try to hide it or cheat on certain tests, because most often it will strike back and you will be looked at as an unreliable person. I would tell them about your color vision deficiency from the first moment on.

Then you can take the test and see what happens. If you pass, that’s perfect. And if you fail and they won’t let you go one step further just because of your color blindness, you should ask for precise explanations and try to describe them, how you see the world and how this could handicap your work as a firefighter.

Of course it could help you if you tell them about the most recent NFPA Report 1582 (see above) and their changed view on color blindness.

Maybe discussing color blindness at, or other places, could also help to get the topic of color vision deficiency more recognized at recruitment offices, which will help all colorblind colleagues which would like to become a firefighter.

Fire! Picture taken by Wili Hybrid.

Future Employees to Take Color Blindness Tests on Their Own Expenses

The following story was sent to me by Dave. He is slightly colorblind and while applying for a job on the way to his new career he had to pass a color blindness test.

Unfortunately the new employer wasn’t really colorblind friendly. Read his story to learn more about the way he had to walk along.

I needed to pass a medical clearance in order to be qualified for training. This was no big deal…except for the Ishihara Plates.

Needless to say, I didn’t pass the Ishihara plates and needed to take subsequent “color deficiency” testing, which I needed to pay for at my own expense. The employer requires all of their employees to pass the Farnsworth D-15 AND the Farnsworth-Munsell D-100 if they have failed the Ishihara plates.

So, I went to my eye doctor and passed the D-15 with relative ease. My doctor thought that the D-100 was extremely overkill and completely unnecessary (partly due to the fact he did not own one). So I needed to spend $659.00 to purchase one myself to bring to my doctor to get tested on.

The D-100 is an amazingly intricate test and cannot be learned. So, I prayed that I would pass. I did very well (at least I thought so) on the test and scored an Error Score of 32. Which easily falls into the range of “Normal Discrimination”. The scoring break-down for the D-100 is as follows. Error Score of 0-16 “Superior Discrimination”. 17-100 “Normal Discrimination”. 100 and above “Poor Discrimination”.

Needless to say I didn’t need the D-100 and the company wouldn’t take returns, so I happily donated it to my eye doctor.

So, thanks for the site and giving me the hope I needed to pass the test!

Thank you very much Dave for sharing your personal story with us. And all the best in your new job and with your new career.