"Do Park Here": How Are You Communicating Effectively with the Color-Blind?

Updated: Aug 17


Headshot of Becca Bowyer, Engineerign Director at BJWSA.  Communicate with FINESSE!
Rebecca Bowyer share a real-life experience of color-blindness in the workplace. Do your communication include approaches for people with vision challenges?

I am a female in a male-dominated industry, and one thing many of the men I have worked with have in common is color-blindness or color vision deficiency. Most days color-blindness does not impact our ability to communicate, but there are times when it can be a hindrance.


Most people know color-blindness as not being able to see a particular color like green or blue. This is a very common type of color-blindness. Many of the interactions with these men involve using certain color pens when marking documents or using varying colors when making maps and charts. Another type involves not being able to see the difference between two colors, like red and green. I’ve worked with men with both types, but one of the best stories of miscommunication I’ve experienced had to do with the latter.


I worked with an inspector that could not see red on green. Most of the time, this never caused an issue. He was very good at his job, did what he was told, was very considerate of others, and his intent was always for good. He was a stickler for following directions, obeying signs, adhering to rules, and complying with policies. Every time he went to the Equipment Maintenance Shop, he would park in front of their mishap of a sign hanging on the gate to the equipment yard that said “Do Park Here” with the “Do” being off-center of the other words in the stack. He went there often and always kept their wishes of parking in front of the gate like the sign said, often commenting that their parking rules were odd as he felt he was in the way of the equipment being moved in and out of the gate.


One particular day, he sent me a picture of the sign on the gate and asked me to tell him what it said as he thought in the sunlight it looked like there might have been shadow lines of other letters, but he couldn’t be sure. It was a standard green street sign with white and red lettering. As I looked at the picture and read it to him, we learned there was one word on it that he had never seen before – “NOT” in red letters, nestled between the “Do” and “Park Here.”


The Equipment Shop had the sign specially made for the inspector, accenting their message in red letters to keep him from blocking their movement of equipment through the gate. It drove them crazy that he always disobeyed the sign, thinking he did this out of spite. Unbeknownst to them, he could not see the red lettering on the sign that they were emphasizing. Once they talked, their relationship improved immediately; the sign shop printed a new sign with only white letters, underlining the “NOT” and the inspector never parked in front of the gate again.

 

Rebecca Bowyer, PE, is Director of Engineering at Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, a public non-profit utility located in the beautiful low country of South Carolina that serves over 63,000 retail customers, 8 wholesale customers, and 4 military installations. Becca, as she is known, is a graduate of Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a master’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering. She is a licensed engineer in South Carolina and North Carolina and has over 30 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry working in both the public and private sectors. Becca is involved in several professional organizations and currently serves as the Chair of the South Carolina AWWA Water Loss Committee.