People who are not visually impaired know how a certain color looks, but how would you describe a color to someone who is blind? When you consider that even sighted people see colors differently, this subjective task can be difficult. However, many colors can be associated with certain smells, tastes, sounds, or feelings. Here are some tips for describing color to a person who is blind.
Part 1 of 3: Using Other Senses to Describe Color
Using touch to describe colors. Have the person hold certain objects while you tell them what color it is. It might be helpful to consider using objects that are almost always a certain color.
- Have the person hold different pieces of wood, touch the bark of a tree, or touch dirt on the ground, and explain that these things are all brown.
- Say, “Brown feels like the earth, or the dead parts of things that grew out of the dirt from the earth.”
- Give the person some leaves or blades of grass to hold, and explain that these are green. Green feels like the alive parts of plants, because when plants are green that means they are alive. You can even give some dead leaves and explain the difference between green and brown.
- Say, “The smoothness and suppleness of the leaves feels like green; green feels like life. But when the leaves are crispy like these other ones, they have turned brown and aren’t alive anymore.”
- Have them put their hands in a bowl of cool water, and explain that water is blue. Tell them that small amounts of water are very light blue, almost clear with no color, and large amounts of water, like rivers or the ocean, are very deep blue.
- Say, “How you feel when you’re swimming in water, the cool wetness that feels relaxing, is how blue feels.”
- Explain that heat, such as a fire or candle flame, or a hot stove burner, is red. Red can usually be thought of as heat, or even a burn.
- Tell the person, “If you have ever had a sun burn, your skin turns a red color. Or, if you have felt embarrassed and blushed, that heat on your cheeks looks red.”
- Explain that concrete, such as on walls or sidewalks, is grey. Metal is also grey – tell them that grey often feels hard and is either cool or hot depending on if the sun is out.
- Say, “Grey is very hard and strong. It feels sturdy like a road under your feet, or the wall that you can lean against, but it isn’t alive and doesn’t grow or have feelings.”
Consider smells and tastes to describe colors. Smells and tastes can definitely be associated with certain colors.
- Explain that spicy foods, and the peppers for spicy foods, are often red. Other foods that are also red are strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. Explain that how those flavors are a very intense sweet is how red looks.
- Say, “Just like how you can feel red from feeling heat, you can also taste it when eating something hot and spicy.”
- Give the person an orange, and explain that oranges are the color orange. Have them pay attention to the smell and taste.
- Say, “Oranges are usually described as refreshing, sweet, and tropical; the sun is orange, and many orange foods need a lot of sun to grow.”
- Do the same thing with a lemon and a banana, and explain that lemons and bananas are the color yellow. Even though they are different flavors, both are yellow, and yellow can either taste sour and citrusy, or sweet and nourishing.
- Say, “Yellow foods also need lots of sun, they are bright and happy.”
- Give the person salad leaves (lettuce and spinach) and explain that these are always green. Green smells and tastes clean and crisp like plants from the earth, and sometimes they are a little bit bitter tasting. Green is usually not sweet like fruit; it is often bitter or can have other smells.
- Give the person different herbs to smell, such as mint, and say, “Green smells like this – fresh, clean, and healthy.”
- For non-food smells in nature, explain again that leaves and grass are green, and water is blue. The smells at the beach are blue for the water, and brown or white for the sand. Explain that flowers can be any color, and often the same type of flower comes in many different colors, but they usually are not green, brown, grey, or black.
Think about how sounds could describe colors. Certain sounds can definitely be associated with certain colors.
- Explain that sirens should make them think of red, because red is a color used to get people’s attention and many fire trucks and police and ambulance lights are red.
- Say, “When you hear a siren, it is to cause people to be alert and pay attention right away, because there might be danger. Red is like that – it’s urgent and grabs your attention.”
- The sound of running water, especially a stream bubbling or the ocean waves crashing, should make them think of blue.
- Say, “blue is calm and nice, like how the sound of water makes you feel relaxed.”
- A sound for green could be the rustling of leaves, or the chirping of birds. Explain that not all birds are green, but because birds live in the trees, the sounds of birds often make people think of the color green.
- Say, “When you hear trees rustling and birds singing, that is what green sounds like.”
- Describe the sounds of a storm as grey. When there is thunder and falling rain, the sky is grey and it makes everything look more grey.
- Say, “Storms are grey. The sounds of the loud thunder and rain mean that it looks grey outside, it’s a bit dark and depressing because the sun isn’t out.”
Describe how the colors make you feel emotionally. People commonly associate colors with certain emotional or other psychological states, and many studies have been done on the associations between color and feelings. Explain to the person the most common ones:
- Red- usually the color of anger, sexual excitement, physical strength or aggression
- Orange- physical comfort, having enough food, warmth, and security, sometimes frustration
- Yellow- friendliness, cheerfulness, optimism, confidence, sometimes fear
- Green- balance, refreshment, harmony, environmental awareness, peace
- Blue- intelligence, coolness, calmness, serenity, logic
- Purple- spiritual awareness, mystery, luxury, truth; often associated with dreams
- Black- sophistication and glamour (positive), or heaviness, menace, or oppression (negative)
- White- cleanliness, clarity, purity, simplicity
- Brown- earthiness, reliability, supportiveness
- Grey- neutrality; lack of confidence or energy; depression
- Pink- nurture, warmth, femininity, love
Part 2 of 3: Using Numbers to Describe Colors
Say as there are unlimited amount of numbers, there are unlimited amount of colors. Imagine that number one is red and number two is yellow, you can find between one and two : “1.2, 1.21, 1.22, 1.3, 1.4, 1.45….”. Same with colors, there are unlimited amount of colors between every two colors the thing that gives us gradation.
Part 3 of 3: Finding Out the Person’s Impairment Background
Determine the nature of the person’s visual impairment. The majority of people with visual impairments have some useful vision, even if it is just the perception of light. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, only 18% of people who are visually impaired are classified as being totally blind, and the majority of them can differentiate between light and dark.
- The ability to differentiate between light and darkness can help you to explain black and white, by saying that black is darkness, and white is the presence of light.
Ask if the person has been blind since birth. Since almost all blindness (in the United States) is due to eye disease, many people with visual impairment have been able to see at some point in their lives. This means you could help them to remember certain things they used to see by describing them.
Find out if the person has color blindness. Color blindness is a certain type of visual impairment in which the person can see objects, but many colors are confused or are not seen as most people see them. Most often people who have color blindness see red, orange, yellow, and green as all the same hue, and they see blue and purple as being the same. While working with or talking to a person who has color blindness, you can simply name the colors of everyday common objects.
- Teachers of students with color blindness should always be sure to use white paper and white chalk in order to maximize contrast. Labeling various writing utensils and art supplies (crayons, markers, colored paper etc.) would also be helpful.