Blind in the City: Exploring Shades of Blindness, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about my perception of colors.
this week, I want to share some comments from others who are blind or have low vision. As you will notice, color, like other aspects of the visual, can be very subjective, and much of what we perceive visually is a matter of how our brains interpret the input.
Note: All comments are anonymous, and are printed exactly as written.

  • I have a love-louve-hate-love¬ relationship with color. When I was small, I could see color, and I remember being regularly immobilized with fascination and wonder. I had no detail vision, but I could see expanses of pure color, and I would stare mesmerized at the blue sky or a field of snow or up into moonlight or even into blackness. I lost all light perception in middle school without mentioning it: everybody already assumed I was blind, I think and nobody much wanted to talk about it. I thought not mentioning this was one of the “rules. interestingly, infuriatingly, perhaps due to retina damage, what I visually perceive now is unpatterned color which I can control to some small extent if I concentrate on it. I imagine that if I focused on this, I could conceivably control it more thoroughly perhaps, and invent appropriate colors: for the things I imagine around me, rather than blobs of orange and green, could I turn my face skyward and experience the blue I remember? I don’t know, and I haven’t taken what I imagine would be the considerable amount of energy necessary to implement this: if it would even work. It feels like a weak, sad substitute for the “real thing”, and I rarely mention it because people react weirdly. It also, perhaps even more strangely from the sighted person’s perspective, becomes too bright when I have a headache and is profoundly distracting!
  • For what it’s worth, I’ll offer my take on this. Colors aren’t real properties of external reality, they are only phenomenal properties of perceptions. A red object isn’t made of red atoms or red molecules, for instance; what sighted people refer to as red is the effect of the texture of the object, which is responsible for certain frequencies of waves to be refracted from its surface. Photons in these frequencies strike the retina, where they initiate an electro-chemical reaction, which, when transmitted through the optic nerve, is associated with a perception sighted people refer to as red. Neither redness, nor any other color, is “out there.”
  • I’m totally congenitally blind with some light perception. Color was nothing more than an abstract concept for me, until one night eight years ago. I was smoking marijuana at a family friend’s lake, and he happened to check the time on his IPhone. I had a startle response to the light, which is unusual for me. My family friend, who is a psychologist, hypothesized that the marijuana was having an effect on my vision, so he used the strobe light app on his IPhone to experiment. I was not only able to sense the light, but I could tell when it was changing. “Bigger!” I said. “Smaller! Sharper! Smoother!”” My friend explained that the changes I was detecting were actually the strobe light changing color. I was perceiving color as texture. Black was a “big” color; white was the smoothest color.
    I later learned that this phenomenon is called synesthesia. .
    As a poet with an intense interest in the visual, I was delighted with my newfound knowledge, however fleeting it was. And, as a researcher, this discovery marked the beginning of my journey to understand how marijuana impacts vision.
  • I, like you, have light perception and occasional light projection too. By the way, I loved your explanation of these, as I never knew you could have varying degrees of light projection and now I know why I test as having light perception only at the eye doctor’s but can detect lights, windows, etc. I however had some more vision, including color perception, as a child, which diminished slowly. At five, for example, I was naming lots of shades of colors. At eight, I started confusing green and blue, and by twelve, I had lost most color perception – interestingly red being the exception. I by this time perceived darker colors as black, in fact. As a person who had color perception until age twelve, and who is clueless about music, I never associated colors with sounds, feelings, etc. I did and still do, however, have the reverse experience, sort of: I have projected grapheme-color synesthesia. This means that, when I feel a letter or number on my Braille display (or imagine it), I see a corresponding color in my mind’s eye. I have a feeling that my synesthetic colors have become a little less bright over the years, since by now it’s been 20 years since I last saw color properly. As for your reference to the wavelengths of colors, I could never remember those and they just felt like physics jargon to me.
  • I had partial sight in one eye until age 11, sight enough to read large print and ride bikes. After retinal surgery, my parents would hold up plastic children’s building blocks and ask me what color they were. I remember clearly seeing red, but squinting at the light-colored ones, trying to decide if they were white or yellow. My vision deteriorated quickly after surgery until only sunlight perception remained. Despite having color memory, colors are very simplified for me now. I couldn’t describe what cyan is if my life depended on it. I never had that color pointed out to me as a child. Kelly green? Even teal is a very faint memory, and I’m not sure I’m remembering it right. But yellow-green? That’s the color of my birthstone rings I had growing up. That was that snot-colored crayon I didn’t like. I remember cornflower blue, it was that really pretty light blue one. Violet? That was the crayon I hated because I thought it was going to be red, but it colored this ugly purple shade. I have synesthesia with music and voices meaning that sound has color attached. This trips me up on occasion, because the key of D-major is a bright purple, whereas G-major is a darker, richer purple. When I hear these two keys, I have trouble differentiating them. The same is true of A and B-major. Their colors are too similar, and I get confused about which key I’m hearing. I don’t have any issue picking out pink C-major from bright light green F-major. My synesthesia blurs the line of gender-conforming colors. I work with a man who has a pink-toned voice. One of my female friends has a nice light blue shade. I even know one person whose name appears white to me when I hear it, but the voice is tan. For me, colors are an uncertain, fading memory. My wrap skirt is magenta. Am I remembering the character Magenta from Blue’s Clues correctly after all these years, or is it violet I’m picturing?
  • I had partial vision growing up and always drew and colored. The Crayola 64 pack was my color palate and I still know those crayons by their 1970’s names. Forest green versus Pine Green, Pea Green versus Yellow Green. Burnt Umber, Raw sienna, etc. I organized my crayon box in color families. My vision was fairly 2-dimentional with very little depth perception but color was definitely there and still is. When I lost most of the color vision to advancing glaucoma, my world was a mess for a while as one medication literally took my color vision over night. Things were extremely grayed out then went completely monotone. Then my brain just took over and began assigning colors to things and places. I also have synesthesia and every sound, letter, number, phoneme, morpheme, has a color.
  • Since I used to be sighted, I totally understand color. It’s frustrating when shopping for clothes or home decor, and I know exactly what color and shade I want, but I ultimately have to trust someone they understand my vision. And when shopping with someone who doesn’t know how to describe color is very frustrating. I had a friend tell me a pair of shoes was Target red, so a true, scarlett red, but turns out, they are a dark coral, so between a deep orange and pink. I don’t shop with her anymore, ha. People always want to know what I “see.” I do have light perception and can see shadowy blobs. But I describe what I “see” as TV fuzz. I have white, blue, yellow and red pops of color, with frequent flashes of white light and swirling rainbows. I’m pretty much on an acid trip all the time LOL!

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