C is for colour blind

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Some top students can't meet program requirements due to hereditary trait

It might seem hard to believe a straight A student, who has excelled in every subject in high school, wouldn’t meet the requirements for a post-secondary program, but it happens every fall.

Glenn Blackwood, executive director of Memorial University’s Marine Institute, told a recent Canadian School Boards Congress in St. John’s he sits down with families of young people every September — young people with red/green colour blindness.

Blackwood said the problem seems to be more predominant among males.

He said it’s frustrating when young people have planned all their lives to enrol in programs like marine transportation, nautical science or marine engineering, but don’t pass the required colour-blindness test.

Red and green are colours used in navigation to differentiate port and starboard positions. Blackwood said the Marine Institute does everything it can to accommodate students, but there are certain challenges like this it just can’t get beyond.

“People challenge us and say, ‘I want to do this program anyway.’ They can do it, but at the end of it, they can’t work in the field,” he said.

“People challenge us and say, ‘I want to do this program anyway.’ They can do it, but at the end of it, they can’t work in the field,” Glenn Blackwood said

Dr. Jane Green, a Memorial University genetics professor, says it’s difficult to know how prevalent red/green colour blindness is in this province, but some research has suggested, overall, it affects about seven to 10 per cent of males and only about 0.4 per cent of females.

Green said the reason more males are affected has to do with genes and chromosomes. The relevant gene that causes colour-blindness is on the X chromosome. Males have only one X chromosome and one Y. If the one X chromosome in a male has the mutation that causes colour-blindness, he will be colour blind, Green said, because he has nothing to match it.

Women, however, have two X chromosomes. In order for a female to be colour blind, Green said she would have to have the gene mutation on both of her X chromosomes.

See This would happen, page A2

Organizations: Marine Institute, Canadian School Boards Congress

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Recent comments

  • Al
    July 28, 2010 - 12:13

    This reminds me of early 1970 when nine of us students went to the recruiting centre in St. John's to join the military. Only three of us actually made it through. Apparently the rest were color blind and couldn't qualify. Even then I couldn't understand why six out of nine people (all male) were color blind, but found out later that this was the way the military rejected people they thought were not Armed Forces material. I have to admit though that I believe this was based on opinion rather than fact.

  • Dave
    July 27, 2010 - 14:56

    MUN being accommodating to students. Give me a break, not enough space to tell you what they done to students in the past!

  • Ejcmartin
    July 27, 2010 - 12:13

    I grew up in Toronto and this test was administered in grade six. I was found to be colour blind and told right then what careers I should not pursue. I too can see red and green in most cases, eg. Traffic lights, but I could see the problem if there was an emergency at sea and one had to distinguish quickly between red and green.

  • Ben
    July 27, 2010 - 11:19

    As someone who failed this colour blindness test refered to in this article as I could not read any number in a book of 21-22 when tested, however I have no problem seeing the difference in a red or green traffic light, and I can distinguish navigational bouys or aids at sea. For my job , I had to pass a color blindness test also, but there is a second test where they test your ability to distinguish colours administered, which I can pass with ease. I dont think you should reject someone based on this test alone. I bet a lot of this people could tell the colours like myself if given the opportunity. I dont think this test alone is valid to call someone colour blind. Im proof it isnt accurate.

  • Debbie Mackey
    July 27, 2010 - 08:21

    Just a thought - Can't symbols be put in with the Colour to differentiate? This has probably been suggested before!!