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Colour blindness in engineering

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 9 Oct 2020

Colour Blindness Hero Image

It’s been found that approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women suffer with some form of colour blindness. (IET; 2020) There are various degrees of colour blindness and the level of disability can vary. Most people will have had the condition since birth or would have been diagnosed form a young age, but for others, the symptoms and diagnosis can come much later in life due to health and wellbeing factors.

There are jobs within engineering sectors that can be affected by colour blindness and if you are someone that suffers with it, there are things that your employer can and should be doing to help you get the most out of your career. We have taken this opportunity to talk more about colour blindness, what it entails and what you may be entitled to from your employer.

What is colour vision deficiency?

Colour Vision Deficiency or better known as ‘colour blindness’ is when the individual in question is unable to see and understand colours in a ‘normal’ way. Most people with colour blindness have a difficulty distinguishing between shades of red, yellow and green. This is commonly known as ‘red-green’ colour vision deficiency. (NHS;2020)

Someone that has this form of colour blindness may;

  • Find it hard to distinguish between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens.
  • See these as much duller colours than someone that has normal vision
  • Have trouble distinguishing between shades of purple
  • Confuse reds with blacks

There are also much rarer forms of colour blindness such as;

  • Blue-Yellow colour blindness
  • Total colour blindness.

Complete colour blindness is very rare sufferers see the world in monochrome shades of grey. This is not very common and is more likely to be diagnosed from a younger age.

What causes colour blindness?

In the eye, there are two types of cells that detect light, called rods and cones. The cone cells detect colour and are near the centre of your vision. Colour blindness occurs when the cone cells are either not absent or don’t work in the way they should. These issues are usually caused due to a genetic fault or it can be passed down from your parents.  

However, colour blindness is not just hereditary. We mentioned above that you can become colour blind later in life and this can happen for various reasons. Health conditions such glaucoma can cause long-lasting issues with your vision or it can be down to medication that you are taking. It can also be a symptom of ageing. Many people can find it difficult to distinguish between colours and it can be a normal part of the ageing process. There are many different conditions that can cause colour blindness and you can find more information on this subject over on the NHS website.

What should you do if you think you’re colour blind?

Many forms of colour blindness are inherited, and most people are diagnosed when they are a child. However, it can be common for people with a mild deficiency not to be aware of it. If you have any eye test with an optometrist (a registered health professional who examines eyes, tests sight and dispenses glasses and contact lenses) they should test your colour vision as a matter of routine, but not all chains of opticians in the UK do this test routinely. (;2020) It’s also a good idea to go to your GP. They can take some routine tests and they will ask you about your symptoms and medical history.

How should employers help you?

Some jobs within engineering require you to have the ability to distinguish between colours. However, just because you may have a form of colour blindness doesn’t then automatically mean that you cannot do the job in question and do it well. It all depends on the ‘the degree of the defect, and the importance of accurate colour distinction to the job function.’ (IET;2020)

When it comes to the interviewing stage of a job application, employers should not be discriminatory towards you and if you, at any stage feel like you have been, you can and should report this behaviour. Despite colour blindness not being a legal disability, employers should take steps to ensure that you are given the same chances as the rest of the candidates and aren’t disregarded because of your impairment.

Employers can and should make reasonable adjustments to their hiring process if they are aware of your impairment. Adjustments may include the removal of physical barriers which can prevent the said individual from completing their day to day tasks or providing extra support to ensure they are able to learn how to do their job accordingly. It’s likely that the employer will come to you and discuss any adjustments that you may need. The same goes for an interview, you are usually asked what adjustments you need to ensure that you are given the same chances as other candidates. Make sure you take this chance and take the time to think about what you may need. It can vary depending on the type of job you are applying for.

Colour blindness in engineering

Within engineering there are some roles that will be highly affected by colour vision impairment. Electrical jobs for example, you may need full colour awareness to be able to pursue a career in some sectors of electrical engineering. Most people with the more common forms of colour blindness can manage their condition, especially if they have been aware of the condition for most of their lives.

“In the case of work in relation to electrical wiring, the problem of colour vision impairment may not be as critical as formerly, when single phase electrical wires were coloured green, black and red. Although a new multi coloured (yellow and green) Earth was introduced some 40 years ago, it is only since 2004 that red electrical wiring was phased out completely.” (IET; 2020)

There are some jobs within engineering that require you to have non-defective vision. But these seem to be getting fewer. Employers are understanding and adapting to ensure that engineers can have the careers they desire. Just as stated above, it may take time, but the electrical sector has adapted and ensured people can carry on with their jobs. Job seekers should understand that colour blindness shouldn’t affect your search, but help you see which employers are willing to help and make suitable adjustments for you. These employers are the ones you want to work for.

For more information on colour blindness in engineering, we have attached links to all sources below.


Colour blindness Awareness

IET – Colour vision in the workplace