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Disabilities are Everywhere

On September 9, we celebrate Color-Blind Awareness Day in honor of John Dalton, one of the first scientists to study color blindness. There are an estimated 300 million people in the world with a color vision deficiency. Color blindness (color vision deficiency or CVD) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. The following is how I spend the majority of my days in this order: sleeping, working then at the field watching my son playing soccer. After spending years with one of my new friends and soccer dad, this past summer I learned he was one of the 8% of men who are colorblind. Before this day, I knew he had a great job, a nice family, a beautiful silver Audi, but I never knew he had a disability.

There are a few different types of color deficiency that can be separated into three different categories: red-green color blindness, blue-yellow color blindness, and the much more rare complete color blindness. Individuals who have color blindness see colors differently than most people. Most of the time, color blindness makes it hard to tell the difference between certain colors. In this case, we were watching our kids scrimmage and the two teams were wearing yellow and green. It is easy enough for most to tell the two teams apart, but for this dad, it was super challenging to tell them apart.

Color blindness is often inherited where people who are colorblind become aware of their color blindness during their childhood. It is also common that some people are not aware they have this condition because they do not know that others see color differently. This dad found out early in childhood during elementary school. “I managed it quite well in school. Socially from a young age when I did have issues seeing things I was occasionally made fun of,” this dad remembers. As most people with disabilities do, this dad found ways to overcome these challenges to be successful in the classroom and into a career. “Work challenges me with color-coding in spreadsheets, stoplight reports (red/green are very tough for me), creating decks and making sure the colors don’t clash, etc. I find ways to manage and if I can’t figure something out people around me help me out. It’s not a barrier, more of a nuisance.”

Like most disabilities, there is no cure for color blindness, but special glasses and contact lenses can help some, but not the case here. “Nothing has helped me specifically. My wife bought me a pair of sunglasses that were supposed to help me see the red/green better. They didn’t help. At work, I lean on peers when needed, making light of it bringing some self-deprecating humor into the mix. There is also certain functionality in Microsoft Office apps that tell you the color in words when you hover your pointer over them. Where that’s available I leverage it.”

It is estimated that a person with normal color vision can see up to 1 million distinct shades of color, but a person who is colorblind may see as few as just 10 thousand colors (1% of the normal range). When a person with a disability faces a challenge, they must learn to adapt. These challenges don’t just affect our work lives, it affects every part of our lives. “Growing up, and even to this date, it is tough for me to pick out clothing in certain situations. I’ve worn the wrong colors together professionally, personally, etc. On that front, it pushes me to wear pretty basic colors of white, blue, gray, etc.” he adds with a laugh, “It’s been tough to branch out in fashion.”

They say everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. It could be independently crossing the street in a wheelchair, it could be anxiety, it could be depression, it could be taking a few extra minutes preparing a big presentation. I often raise eyebrows with employers when I tell them they already have people with disabilities working with them now. They often look around and smile thinking of that co-worker who’s a little unique or nod thinking of that co-worker who has a noticeable physical disability. For me, it’s a co-worker navigating through mental health or my team member who carries an inhaler for his severe asthma. Outside of work, I have a very active father-in-law who I’ve personally seen experience some episodes when his numbers drop due to his diabetes. I now know of a friend, who is colorblind. Everyone one of these individuals falls into the group of having an invisible or not readily noticeable disability, which represents seventy percent of all disabilities. Disabilities are all around us – working, fighting, overcoming, and hanging out with me at the soccer field watching our sons do the same. Some are noticeable, most are invisible and some simply see through a different lens.

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