Coping Strategies for Total Color Blindness: Making the Most of Vision Without Color


Total color blindness, also known as monochromacy or achromatopsia, is a rare vision condition where an individual cannot perceive any colors at all. Instead of seeing the world in vivid hues, the totally colorblind only see shades of black, white and gray. This is caused by a complete lack of cone cells in the retina, which are responsible for detecting different wavelengths of light that our brains interpret as color.

Living without any color perception poses many daily challenges, but there are practical coping strategies and tools that can help the totally colorblind adapt and make the most of their unique vision. With support, understanding and some clever workarounds, it's possible to confidently navigate a colorful world without being able to experience its beauty.

This article will provide an overview of various techniques and assistive technology available to enhance functioning for those with total color blindness. We'll also explore social support, advocacy efforts, cognitive strategies and unique strengths that those with monochromatic vision develop. Despite limitations, those with a complete inability to experience color can find empowerment, joy and purpose in life. There is great potential to reduce barriers if awareness spreads.

Home Life Adaptations

The home is often full of colorful objects, appliances and supplies that can be perplexing without the ability to discern hues. But there are many ways to adapt your living environment to be more manageable.

Labeling Items. Applying clear labels to appliances, food containers, clothes and medications can help identify them. Use large text or even tactile symbols like Braille for those with extremely low vision. Labels can also designate storage locations like "Kitchen Utensils" or "Black Socks."

Organization Systems. Rather than organizing by color, create systems based on other attributes like style, texture or pattern. Clothing can be arranged by sleeve length, fabric type, or function. Mark spice containers with scents like “Cinnamon” or “Oregano.” Group toiletries by type like “Lotions” or “Oral Care.”

Smart Technology. Applications like ColorChecker use your smartphone camera to audibly identify colors in real time. LED bulbs that connect to phones can be controlled to display colors that are distinguishable to the colorblind. Voice assistant technology can also provide color readings.

Photography and Scanning. Take photos of complex color-coded systems you need to decipher later like appliance function panels or medication labels. Or use a specialized app to scan and translate colors into identifiable words, shapes or patterns.

Lighting. Ensure ample, high quality lighting in all rooms and task areas to maximize the distinction of details. Those with low vision especially benefit from reduced glare and supplemental portable lighting.

School and Workplace Accommodations

Navigating color-coded systems and materials at school or work poses added challenges for the totally colorblind. But legal protections exist to provide accommodations and accessibility.

Alternate Formats. Many diagrams, graphs and color-coded documents can be reformatted to be legible without color perception. Request tactile models, textures, numbered shapes or other alternate presentations of materials.

Colleague Assistance. Explain your total color blindness to classmates, coworkers and teachers who can provide help distinguishing colors when needed in classwork or professional tasks. This allows you to check uncertain colors.

Technology Tools. Portable color identifier tools can scan materials and read out color names or assign symbols. Some devices can even “translate” colors by converting them into soundscapes or identifiable patterns. Apps like Chroma may also be able to convert selected colors to more perceptible options.

Reasonable Accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, those with total color blindness are entitled to reasonable accommodations in education and employment. This may include alternate color formats, extra time, aids like color identifiers or adjustments to tasks requiring color discernment.

Online Learning. Remote education via video classes and recorded lectures provides more control over color accessibility. Online platforms also enable communicating needs and requesting accommodations. For some fields, online degree options may offer reduced color dependence.

Travel and Transportation

Traveling independently without the ability to interpret colored signals and guides can be challenging. But assistive technology, preparation and support from others can greatly reduce barriers.

Transit Apps. Apps like Colorblind Pal provide navigational support for buses, subways, rideshares and flights. You can enter your locations and the app provides step-by-step audio guidance including the colors of vehicles or lines. Some apps even use augmented reality and GPS to identify color-coded transit in real time.

Supporting Documents. Request alternate formats of documents like subway maps, flight seat cards or venue guides highlighting colors used for wayfinding. Many organizations will provide accessibility versions if asked in advance. Traveling with a sighted companion can also help interpret colors.

Cautious Driving. Those with total color blindness must exercise extra care at traffic lights. Look for the position of the illuminated light rather than the color. Or use apps that provide audio alerts for traffic signals. Consider avoiding driving in new areas at night when possible.

Color Descriptions. When booking travel, ask service providers to describe colors used for guidance, such as airport wayfinding, hotel room doors or cruise ship life jackets. This allows you to create a reference for your trip.

Products and Assistive Technology

Specialized lenses, glasses and a growing array of smartphone apps offer assistive technology to enhance functioning for the totally colorblind. These tools can significantly improve accessibility, independence and confidence.

Smartphone Apps. Applications like Enchroma and Colorfy use your camera to identify colors in real time. Some like ColorName speak colors aloud into headphones. Others assign symbols, convert colors to high contrast or provide audio cues like Color Palette. Apps are also available to recolor digital content.

Wearable Lenses. EnChroma and Pilestone lenses have optical filters designed to improve color perception for the colorblind. While not a “cure,” for some these can expand the range of hues experienced. Try out options to see if helpful for your specific deficiencies.

Portable Color ID Devices. Handheld color analyzers like the ColorDoctor can scan surfaces and materials, then speak or display the detected color. Versions are available for identifying everything from wires to spices to skin tones. Some work in tandem with a smartphone app.

Augmented Reality. Emerging augmented and virtual reality tools like Aire offer ways to experience color through other senses. AR glasses can convert colors to sounds you associate with objects like yellow banana. This technology is still in early stages but holds promise for creatively enhancing color perception.

Smart Home Devices. Connected home systems like Phillips Hue can be programed to only display colors distinguishable to the colorblind end user. Voice assistant technology can also provide color readings of items on command using linked smartphone apps.

Social Support and Self-Advocacy

While assistive technology provides functional support, social connections, understanding and speaking up for your needs are also critical for thriving with color blindness.

Explain Your Condition. Ensure those close to you understand what total color blindness entails, including both limitations and capabilities. Highlight specific ways friends and family can provide assistance when navigating color dependence. The more compassionately people understand your experience, the more accommodating they can be.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help. Whether it’s reading a map, choosing an outfit, or interpreting graphic data, don't hesitate to ask for clarification from a sighted person when uncertain about color. People are often happy to assist once they are aware of your needs.

Online Groups. Connecting with other totally colorblind individuals through groups like Color Blind Pal provides community, advice and reassurance you are not alone. Peers become valuable resources for problem-solving challenges. Social media networks also enable connecting around shared experiences.

Advocate Accessibility. Provide constructive feedback to organizations, schools, employers and designers on improving accessibility for the color blind. Knowing their products or services pose inadvertent barriers can motivate change. Vocal advocates play a key role in awareness.

Mentor Youth. For children struggling to adapt to color blindness, connect them to positive role models and mentors. Sharing your experiences helps foster self-acceptance rather than shame. Setting an example that color blindness doesn’t have to limit achievement or happiness empowers the next generation.

Cognitive Coping Strategies

In addition to practical adaptations and tools, adjusting thought patterns and perceptions can help in making the most of colorless vision.

Focus On Contrast. Rather than fixating on colors you can’t perceive, direct your attention to contrast levels, textures, patterns and fine details that allow you to distinguish variation. Appreciating nuances in shades of gray offers its own vibrancy once you shift focus.

Double Check. When uncertain about a color, take time to cross-verify using a color reading app, descriptive label or trusted person. Getting in the habit of double checking rather than guessing prevents embarrassing mix-ups.

Humor Helps. Maintaining a sense of humor about missteps related to color confusion fosters resilience. Laugh at wearing mismatched socks or using the wrong bottle of condiment. These minor mishaps become fun anecdotes rather than sources of frustration.

Patience and Self Compassion. Slip ups are inevitable when you cannot perceive color. Respond to yourself with gentleness, patience and understanding when mistakes happen, as you would a loved one struggling with a sense loss. Don't let perfectionism add shame to the experience. Progress comes incrementally.

Fostering Understanding in Society

While individual coping strategies are key, ultimately social awareness and attitude shifts can significantly improve accessibility and inclusion for the color blind.

Share Your Story. The most powerful tool for fostering understanding is speaking openly about your experiences as someone with total color blindness. Public figures coming forward humanizes the condition and builds empathy.

Contact Businesses. Share constructive feedback with companies, organizations and service providers on steps they can take to increase accessibility for the color blind. Influence paradigms by bringing excluded perspectives to the table.

Mentor Children. For kids struggling with shame over color blindness, connecting them to role models proves they can thrive and achieve their dreams. Instilling self-acceptance and pride from a young age is invaluable.

Signage and Wayfinding. Advocate for supplemental symbols, shapes, textures or labels to accompany color-coded signage and notifications. Introducing multiple visual cues improves navigation for all.

Emphasize Diversity. Those with color blindness offer rare and valuable perspectives. Framing differences in perception as diversity, not deficiency, promotes inclusion. Accentuating sensory diversity strengthens communities.


Total color blindness undoubtedly poses difficulties in tasks most take for granted. But with the right adaptive strategies, technology, understanding and support, it is possible not just to cope but to thrive without color perception.

The color blind community has unique insights to offer the world. But realizing that potential requires reducing barriers through improved accommodations, accessibility and awareness. With effort, we can build a society that values diverse perspectives.

When embraced the right way, the limitations of color blindness provide opportunities to hone problem solving, tap creativity and celebrate neurological diversity. Deficiencies in one area lead to strengthened perception and focus in others. By making the most of available vision and adapting environments, activities and attitudes, the totally colorblind can craft rich, purposeful lives doing their part to make the world a little more inclusive.