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Why It Doesn't Matter If Color Blindness is a Deficiency or an Impairment

The difference bewtween color blindness as a deficiency or an impairment doesn't matter because FINESSE covers both with its good practices.
The difference between normal vision and one form of color blindness. Unless you suffer from deuteranopia, and in that case, they both look the same. (source:

Color blindness should be addressed in your communication and facilitation approach, whether you believe it to be a deficiency, an impairment, or a disability. Relegating color blindness to a legal deficiency means employers seldom test, hire, or accommodate it. If you do the same as the technical presenter, you will lose between 8 percent and 25 percent of your senior management audience. Few of us can afford to lose that many in our audience.

Color Blindness and ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a US law that provides broad protection against discrimination based on disability. Most US employers are prohibited from certain forms of discrimination when hiring employees and must accommodate an employee's disability in the workplace.

Color vision deficiency (often called "color blindness") is not ordinarily a disability under the ADA. Some exceptions, such as first responders and some transportation jobs, are based on safety concerns. Most US employers do not ask, test, or otherwise accommodate for color vision deficiency.

Disabilities vs. Impairments

Disability means not being able. Attorneys and courts interpret the US ADA differently. Still, generally, the ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individuals. Major Life activities include being able to care for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, breathing, thinking, communicating, or working. The World Health Organization defines disability as "any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being."

A disability is a functional limitation.

Impairment means diminishment or loss of function or ability. Impairment is a specific problem with the person's body. The World Health Organization defines impairment as 'any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function.’

Disability results from an impairment, but impairment does not always lead to disability.

Deficiency vs. Impairment

Deficiency means inadequacy or incompleteness. Color blindness is a deficiency because it does not impact a person’s visual acuity or normal peripheral vision. The standard measurement for normal visual sharpness (after correction) is 20/20. Someone with 20/20 vision could read small letters on a Snellen eye chart that look blurry to someone with impaired visual acuity.

The determination of “normal vision” is controversial.

The definition of visual impairment can vary depending on who is using it. Different medical groups, organizations, and doctors may use the term differently.

One method used by the American Foundation for the Blind is:

Moderate visual impairment

Visual acuity: 20/70 to 20/160

Severe visual impairment

Visual acuity: 20/200 to 20/400

Visual field: 20 degrees or less

Who Is Impacted by Color Blindness

According to the National Eye Institute, you are also more likely to have color blindness if you:

  • Have a family history of color blindness

  • Have certain eye diseases, like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

  • Have certain health problems, like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Take certain medicines

  • Are male

  • Are white

According to the American Optometric Association, some diseases that can cause color deficits are:

  • Diabetes

  • Glaucoma

  • Macular Degeneration

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Chronic alcoholism

  • Leukemia

  • Sickle Cell Anemia


Is color blindness a deficiency, an impairment, or a disability? The discussion may seem a bit academic unless you are color-blind. Or if your boss or boss's boss is color blind.

The reality is that somewhere between one and three people in every audience of twelve senior managers will have some form of seeing or hearing difficulty. The question is whether you will ignore it like most of corporate America does when accommodating those with color vision deficiency.

The other option is to embrace it with good practices. You will be doing the right thing and winning some friends while incorporating it into your communication and facilitation. The FINESSE model primarily addresses color vision deficiency in Structure (the first S in FINESSE) and secondarily in Illustrations and Noise reduction.

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