Our spectrum of colorblind correspondents--color them anything but shrinking violet

Colorblind people, as Fallon Evans reminded us the other day, have problems that the rest of us don’t have.

Most colorblind people are colorblind for red and green, so they can’t tell a stop light from a go light, which could be a serious handicap in a metropolis like Los Angeles. (About 5% of males are colorblind; fewer females.)

Evans, as he says, has a simple solution. He knows that top means stop.

Ormand K. Flood, an adventurous octogenarian who lives in Whittier, has a more complicated way of dealing with this problem.


His affliction is also red-green; blue-yellow is very rare. He has never seen red or green. It is as if his eyes had a filter, like a camera, that changed those two colors.

“Everything is black or white, or gray, or yellow, or blue. There, are, however, shades--and this is what is important to us.

“The red light (I know it’s red because that’s what everyone calls it) looks amber, and the amber light looks brownish, but it is the middle light; and the green light looks white. We call this ‘secondary criteria.’ ”

So it’s easy. If the amber light at the top is on, it means stop; if the brownish amber light in the middle is on, it means stop if you have time; if the white or lower light is on, it means go.


Like Evans, Dan Baker of Westminster couldn’t get into the Navy because of his colorblindness, but was taken by the Army and wound up as an infantry officer in Korea.

There he found out why colorblindness could make a difference in the military. He was returning from a jeep ride to Pusan, and as they approached their mountainous rear-slope position, his driver yelled out: “ ‘Hey, lieutenant! Our guys finally took Hill 292!’

“ ‘Oh,’ I answered, ‘how can you tell?’

“ ‘Our guys’ had laid out on the rear slope the standard two-panel signal to alert our own aircraft that this was now friendly territory. No napalm, please! The panel colors were deep green and dark red. From a distance of probably one mile I could not see the panels against the burned-out hillside. My driver and one other passenger could see them easily. Obviously, I would not have been a safe bet to spot friendly territory from the air. . . .”


OK. Flood is one of those rare veterans of both World War I and World War II. Like Evans, because of his colorblindness he was made an air observer.

“I could detect camouflage better than a normal-visioned person,” he explains. “I was in a Piper Cub over the enemy lines in the Battle of the Bulge, and we brought it back with nine holes in it.

“Also, I was in the Rhine crossing airborne operation of the 17th Airborne--glider-transported and dropped on the east bank of the Rhine River. That’s where I was shot in the right elbow on landing and lost my arm.”

Flood first became aware of his colorblindness as a small boy when he couldn’t detect red berries on a green tree. Think how much he missed at Christmastime.


Bob Colman of Newport Beach also ran into red-green trouble in World War II when he applied for a job operating water taxis that carried shipyard workers between Oakland and nearby shipyards.

He had to have a Coast Guard license, for which he passed the verbal, written and physical tests--except that he was colorblind. The examining officer, an ensign, explained that at night the green starboard light of an oncoming vessel might look white to him.

Despite this difficulty, he got the license. “But I must admit,” he says, “that I sirred the hell out of that ensign.”

William R. Haas of San Diego reports that in Switzerland the government has found a way to make life easier for the colorblind.


“In the larger cities there are special traffic lights which have a round red stop indicator, a triangular yellow caution indicator and a square green go symbol. It is a wonderful idea and evidently the Swiss believe that enough people are colorblind to justify the extra expense. . . .”

My statement that it is impossible to describe color to a blind person reminds Elsa Dekking of La Jolla of an anecdote about Einstein, who seems to have engendered more charming anecdotes than most famous scientists.

“One day Einstein was asked by a pesky reporter to describe his theory of relativity in a few simple words. He responded with the following story:

“A man was asked by a blind man to describe the color white. The man said, ‘White is the color of a swan.’ The blind man said, ‘What is a swan?’ The man said, ‘A swan is a bird with a crooked neck.’


“The blind man asked, ‘What is crooked?’ The man was becoming impatient. He grabbed the blind man’s arm, straightened it and said, ‘This is straight.’ Then he bent it and said, ‘And this is crooked.’

“Whereupon the blind man quickly said, ‘Yes, yes, thank you. Now I know what white is.’ ”

Even children find ways to beat this handicap. “Many years ago,” writes retired schoolteacher Ramona Burnham of Covina, “at our first parent-teacher conference, a mother told me that her son was colorblind. I asked, ‘But if he is colorblind, how can he do his work papers, since they ask for certain colors?’

“ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘he reads the names of the colors from the paper around the crayons.’ ”


As we say in English, there are more ways than one to skin a cat.