Everyday colourblindness: the blinking problem of red-green LEDs
And BBC Traitors.
One of the aims with 1 in 12 is to help shine a light on the everyday experience of colourblindness, so I am going to write regular posts on those times where I stumble over colours in daily life.
Let me mention two from the past week.
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First up, a minor one, but typical of the everyday irritation of colourblindness. Traitors is a BBC TV show and the final part was broadcast on UK TV on Friday night (26 Jan 2024). I’m not generally a fan of these reality type gameshows but, hands up, it was astonishingly compelling.
In the endgame, the presenter Claudia Winkleman threw some pouches into a fire. They represented the decision of the contestant on whether to continue with the game. It was a dramatic touch, typical of the programme and the attention to detail throughout the production. Unfortunately that attention to detail didn’t stretch to the colours which were, of course, red and green. I couldn't see the red very well, so I found myself requiring help from my wife. Each time a pouch was thrown on I had to get her commentary. What colour is it? What colour?
Here are the screenshots and when these are side-by-side I actually find it relatively easy to work out which is which. There is something about the comparison of tones that allows me to tell them apart. The one on top looks more yellow than green to me - but I‘m confident it is not red. The bottom one could be, to my eyes, a shade of dark green but due to a process or elimination I can work out it is the red one.
Of course, the way it works in practice is that you don’t get to see them side-by-side - so as Claudia tossed the pouches onto the fire I was left a bit clueless.
Red and green LEDs
This is arguably the single most pervasive problems with colourblindness in the modern world - the design of electronic equipment and the default tendency to use red and green seems to be absolutely hard-wired into the system.
Take my Kindle that needed some juice this week: when you plug it in, a little orange light comes on. This, apparently, turns green when it is fully charged. It is quite staggering how often this is used as a standard signal in electronic equipment.
I cannot tell the difference between these two LEDs. At all. It is like a near perfect test of colour vision deficiency. I can’t begin to work it out - it completely defeats me. There is no way to pick up other cues or to compensate somehow. Using orange rather than a deeper red makes it even more impenetrable. A single LED changing colour from orange/red to green is utterly hopeless; they are quite indistinguishable and this single design flaw is repeated across scores of devices and in multiple, often critical, circumstances.
I find it quite astonishing. After all, surely there must be many engineers and designers involved in creating a device like this. I’m thinking it has to be dozens of people, quite possibly hundreds. And we know 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are affected by colour vision deficiency. Why has no one commented? Maybe they said something and were shouted down but the same problem is repeated across almost every device one comes across. Why has nothing changed?
I’m sure I will come back to this again and again - I’m keen to explore this further.
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