Color blindness can be one of the most difficult deficiencies to detect in your students. It is not uncommon for a student to mask their vision deficiency by following the lead of others. This is especially common in young students who may fear being different than their classmates. Other times, a student's vision deficiency may be wrongly categorized as a learning disability due to poor performance.
The lack of color-blind training presented to teachers can make it difficult to spot color blindness in a struggling student. Furthermore, this lack of training can make it hard for teachers to know how to properly accommodate their students.
How To Spot Colorblindness in Students
Sometimes you may have a student who is already diagnosed with a color deficiency, and you’ll need to adjust your curriculum for them. Other times, you and your student may both be unaware of their vision deficiency.
A few common signs that one of your students is color-blind may include coloring objects in non-traditional colors, such as using an orange crayon to color a picture of an apple instead of a red crayon. They may also have trouble following color-coded directions, as when you encourage all the students who are wearing green to line up first or ask everyone to get out their blue folders. Similarly, they may have difficulty reading books or the whiteboard when the words are written in a specific color.
If you notice these signs in one of your students, encourage their guardian to have their vision tested by an optometrist or to use a color-blind test online for diagnosis. Whether your student is already diagnosed or they are just learning about their deficiency, be sure to discuss with the student and their guardian about what you can do to best support them.
Tips for Teachers of Color-Blind Students
To create an inclusive experience that won’t hinder your color-blind students learning, follow these tips.
Lighting is important to color vision, as different types of light can affect our color recognition. The brighter the light, the easier it is to recognize colors. Try to seat color-blind children in a place that has plenty of natural light and is square to the board to avoid glare.
If possible, consider talking to the maintenance staff to replace old, yellow lights for bulbs that mimic natural light better.
Lend A Helping Hand
Avoiding color altogether isn’t always a viable option. For times when you must use color, as in lessons where you use colored diagrams or pictures, assign a classmate to help the student with a color deficiency.
Make sure to discuss this with the student before assigning them a helper. Young students dealing with color blindness can often feel insecure about their deficiency and may not want the entire class to know. Pairing up the student with a trusted friend might be the best bet for keeping your student comfortable and confident.
Be Picky With Resources
Check worksheets for color issues and instances where patterns, labels, or text may rely too heavily on color. You’ll likely find a few pages in your textbooks that will be too hard for your student to read. In instances where worksheets or textbook pages are too difficult for your student to see, photocopy worksheets into black and white and add symbols or text indicators to replace color labels.
Pick Your Whiteboard Markers Carefully
As a precautionary measure, it’s best to stick to black markers. When you must use multiple colors, stick to bold, contrasting colors, and check with your student first to make sure they can see the colors you will use.
Computers and PowerPoints
Computer learning can be difficult for color-blind students—you never know what webpage may be too hard to navigate based on the colors it uses in its web design. This is another realm where assigning a buddy can come in handy.
Like whiteboards, if you plan to use PowerPoint lessons, use contrasting colors, and avoid any colors or patterns that your student has difficulties with.
Look around your classroom for items that are heavily color reliant. For example, many teachers use behavior charts that use a red indicator to signify bad behavior and a green indicator for good behavior. If you plan to use a chart like this, label color sections to aid your color-blind students.
Likewise, if you use certain bins for homework collection, returned papers, or any other color-coded organization systems, label those sections as well.
You should also label supplies such colored pencils, markers, crayons, and construction paper. It is important to note that some coloring supplies can have exotic name choices that won’t be helpful indicators to a color-blind student. For example, the color vermillion is a bold red—label it as such to better assist your student.
Handling Physical Education
Games and physical education activities can often be color reliant, especially when it comes to forming teams. Make sure your student can differentiate who is and isn’t on their team. If you normally use jerseys that are in a color that your student can’t see well, instruct only one team to wear jerseys over their shirts instead, rather than having both teams wear jerseys.
Certain equipment, such as orange floor hockey balls or green soccer balls can be difficult for your student to identify as well, especially in poor lighting. Try to use equipment that doesn’t blend in too much with its surroundings, so your student can easily identify the items.
One of the best tips for teachers of color-blind students is to audit yourself and your classroom. Stay conscious of how often you rely on color in your life and your classroom, as this will help you understand the struggle a color-blind student may go through daily. Every time you notice that you’ve been relying on color, ask yourself if a similar instance would hinder your student’s experience in the classroom. If so, find a way to improve your habits to be more inclusive. The more conscious you become of your color reliance, the more inclusive you can make your classroom for students with a color vision deficiency.
Making these adjustments in your classroom can make your student feel more confident in their learning abilities and reduce the fear they may feel about school and being different in general. Follow these tips to create a more inclusive space for color-blind students in your classroom.