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rangerr's avatar

How would you describe a color to a completely blind person?

Asked by rangerr (15744points) November 27th, 2009

I’m constantly trying to think of how to describe things to blind people.
I met a little boy at a disabilities conference I was doing childcare for who felt my hair and told me that it felt like purple.

But how do you describe a color to them? Or tell them what color something is?
I feel dumb, but I’m trying to understand more about disabilities, as I want to be a special ed. teacher. Blindness is the one handicap that I don’t have one-on-one experience working with.

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23 Answers

chelseababyy's avatar

How about trying to do it through other senses like smell and touch and taste.
Yellow is warm like a summer day, or blue is cool like the wind. Pink can be sweet, like a certain flavor of candy.

avvooooooo's avatar

Textures and temperatures. Think about what blue would feel like. Is it soft or smooth or cool? Is white cold? You can think about it and come up with many things. I think pink feels like kittens. :)

seeing_red's avatar

I agree with @chelseababyy. I would think describing them through other senses would be excellent and very poetic.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with the answers above, to describe color related to other senses. You may be interested to know that the vast majority of blind people are born with sight. They lose their sight from injury or disease. So most of the blind people you meet will have experienced color.

chelseababyy's avatar

@seeing_red Yay! Exactly what I was going for.

chelseababyy's avatar

I think the color orange is quite easy, especially if you can have the person eat an orange.

rangerr's avatar

@JLeslie I always forget that. The two boys that I worked with who were blind were blind from birth, they were 4 and 5 and didn’t really understand how they were different yet.

I feel silly now. The most obvious way is the one I don’t think of.

holden's avatar

I have no idea but I lurve this question.

seeing_red's avatar

@holden Me too. I gave it a GQ

rangerr's avatar

@holden @seeing_red Thank you! And welcome to Fluther!

trevormaybe's avatar

it depends,i think if the people with blind not from born,you totally can discribe it through sense to remember colour,but opposite situation you only can use sense to teach the blind people what’s the colour of sense like ?

Zen_Again's avatar

Feeling angry? Red.

Shy? Pink (lighter shade of red.) Really angry – purple.

Green with envy – green apple (smell and taste it first – granny smith) and grass (freshly mowed) and green leaves, tea and trees swaying in the breeze (smell, hear, feel).

Blue is the sky (and in the blue water) on a sunny (yellow) day – feel the sun’s yellow rays on your face. The others are harder.

(P.s. Blind as a bat and very colour blind here – when I could see better).

P.p.s. This was not written in a professional context.

seeing_red's avatar

I can vouch for the red=angry one. ;)

wundayatta's avatar

Color is different wavelengths of light. The eye can discriminate between them, in the same way that your fingers can discriminate between different textures, or, when feeling something three dimensional, different depths. Except, when you have eyes, you can determine these things from a distance. You don’t have to be close enough to touch them. In that way, it’s like sound.

You can tell the size of the room and how far away the walls are using sound. You don’t have to be close enough to touch the walls. Similarly, you can feel heat, which can tell you which direction the heat source is.

There are many wavelengths of radiation in the world. Eyes can only see a portion of them. We have to build machines that can detect and intrepret other wavelengths. Some of those machines are based on sound. We can use sound to detect the exact shape and distance of things from a distance. If the machines are accurate enough in interpreting the signals, we can see both surfaces and insides of things. The machines display this information by building facsimiles of what they detect.

Eyes are like these detection machines, except they are natural. They detect visual light wavelengths, and our brains interpret that information in a way that allows us to determine the nature of things from a distance. Like most senses, vision sometimes fools us, or we sometimes misinterpret what we see.

Hope that helps.

dpworkin's avatar

My girlfriend has a color model in her head that is in the form of connected rooms. (She has never seen color, and there is really no way to convey to her what color is.) But she knows that there are so-called warm colors, and cool colors, so she has, say a red room, connected to rooms of various shades of red, which eventually transition to the orange room nearby.

She always asks me what color something is, and she doesn’t want to hear me just say “blue”. If I do, she asks,“Which blue? Navy? Cerulean? Turquoise?” She has analogues for hundreds of colors in her head.

Green she experiences as freshness and new growth, the way the leaves and the grass feel to her in Spring.

rangerr's avatar

@pdworkin Lurve, lurve, lurve!

mattbrowne's avatar

I agree with @chelseababyy – fMRI scan show that neurons in the visual cortex of blind people are reused for other senses, in particular sounds.

Zen_Again's avatar

@pdworkin Did you read my answer? I liked yours. :-)

Allie's avatar

We actually had to do a paper on this for my research methods class. We had to describe red using descriptions of things we saw, felt, or thought about. We couldn’t say things like, “It’s darker than orange” (or whatever). A lot of people ended up describing it based on emotions. Like, “Red is how I feel when I really love someone” or “Red is like when you’re so angry you might scream.”
Since other senses are heightened for those who are blind, I think it’s absolutely reasonable to describe it based on the senses they use – “Red is spicy like cinnamon, and warm like hot water.”
A few people also used more abstract ideas. One person described red as a sterile color. Another person described it as strong and powerful.

ShiningToast's avatar

This reminds me of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Does anyone remember the part where the main character is first able to see color after seeing black and white his whole life?

He says the ball (or whatever the object was, I think it was a ball) didn’t change in size or shape, but just for an instant it was different. I just thought that would be so weird to comprehend.

JLeslie's avatar

This thread made me think of the show Heroes and how the deaf girl sees music as different colors.

MacBean's avatar

@JLeslie: Lots of people do! I think sound-to-color synesthesia is one of the more common types.

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