People who suffer from colour blindness face many difficulties on a daily basis that people with typical vision just aren’t aware of. Problems can occur during the simplest of tasks, such as gardening, cooking, picking clothes and driving. Given the condition can be such a challenge for so many people, is colour blindness a disability? Continue reading to find out.

What is colour blindness?

Colour blindness is a term used to describe the condition ‘colour vision deficiency’, which means a person finds it difficult to identify and distinguish between certain colours.

It is sometimes referred to as being colour blind, but total colour blindness, as in the inability to see any colour, is very rare. Instead, colour vision deficiency is classified as somebody who struggles with certain colours, which could mean a mixture of colours blend together, like traffic lights or a bowl of fruit.

Colour vision deficiency is usually passed on to a child during birth and is present from birth, but it can sometimes develop later in life. Most people are able to adapt to colour vision deficiency and it’s rarely a sign of anything serious. A lot of people also have a minor form of the condition, where they have no problems with the majority of colours, but can struggle sometimes with a small selection.

Types and symptoms of colour vision deficiency

Most people with colour vision deficiency struggle to distinguish between shades of red, yellow and green, which is a problem when driving and following traffic lights.

This is known as “red-green” colour blindness and is a common problem that affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. Someone with this type of colour blindness will have the following symptoms or difficulties:

  • Struggles to tell the difference between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens.
  • These colours appear duller than for someone with normal vision.
  • Trouble distinguishing between shades of purple.
  • Confuse reds with black.

In rare cases, some people have trouble with blues, greens and yellows, which is called “blue-yellow” colour vision deficiency.

Is colour blindness a disability under the Equality Act?

In the UK, colour blindness – or colour vision deficiency – isn’t generally thought of as a disability, despite it being a clear impairment for many people. The Guidance Notes of the Equality Act 2010 are unclear and misleading. However, the Government Equalities Office has recognised colour blindness as a disability, despite the ambiguity. The Department for Work and Pensions has also agreed that the Guidance Notes require amendment.

Despite the relevant governing bodies stating that colour vision deficiency should be classed as a disability, the fact remains that it isn’t legally. In fact, in the Bessell v Chief Constable of Dorset Police case from 2017 – where Mr Bessell claimed workplace discrimination because of disability – the Employment Tribunal ruled that colour blindness could not be classed as a disability because Mr Bessell’s “coping strategies meant that his colour blindness does not substantially affect these activities”. 

He argued that he could not determine the freshness of certain meats, but it was concluded that “he can use smell and texture to determine the freshness of food.”

So, while it is agreed that colour blindness should be a disability, in an actual employment tribunal case, the claim was rejected.

Issues for people with colour vision deficiency

Most people with colour vision deficiency are able to live a happy life with their condition, making adjustments where necessary. It won’t, normally, get any worse as time goes by and it’s rarely a sign of anything serious. 

However, colour blindness can often cause issues in other forms of life, such as:

  • Difficulty at school when colours are involved (although education settings will often implement steps to help children in this instance).
  • Identifying food health and safety. For example, not being able to tell if a certain meat is raw or fruit is ripe.
  • Confusing medications when clearly not labelled.
  • Trouble identifying safety warnings or signs.
  • Limited career choices, such as pilots, train drivers, electricians and air traffic controllers, which may require accurate colour recognition.

Contact Seashell

Seashell is a charity dedicated to providing a creative, happy and secure environment for children and young people with complex needs and additional communication challenges from across the UK.

To find out more about what we do at Seashell, how we can help you and who we are, don’t hesitate to contact us on 0161 610 0100 or email us at