Seeing colour blindness in a new light

The story behind Bill Urquhart’s TED talk

I discovered that I was colour blind at the age of sixteen — impressively late to do so if you ask me. Though it came as a shock, the more I began to think about it the more it seemed to make sense. It explained why I, as a creative and artistic child who drew pictures every evening, never warmed up to using anything other than black fine liner pens. It explained why I’d never been able to mix paint at all. It also explained the time that I was convinced that a picture of a monster in a children’s book was blue when the whole class was shouting that it was purple.

The really crucial thing about discovering that I had colour blindness was that it provoked an interest in colour for me, and this is something that I’d never had. As I learned more about it, I became hooked on the material: I used my condition as the inspiration for my Extended Project Qualification when I was 17, I contacted a colour researcher and ended up working with him as a technical assistant for over a year, he helped me self-publish a short book on the colour perception of animals and I ended up at Edinburgh University pursing perception further through the disciplines of Philosophy and Psychology.

From my reflection over the years on the subject, there has been one prevailing opinion that I have come to develop. This is that colour blindness is not necessarily a bad thing and it’s unusual to hold an opinion so contrary to popular belief for me. Most people automatically treat it as a mild disability and that it means to see incorrectly. I don’t think this is true.

So the reasoning behind pushing a TED talk on ‘Seeing Colour Blindness in a New Light’ is to spread my view about this subject and promote a better outlook on colour blindness in general. This is a stance that no one ever takes, so I believe that making people question the stigma they attach to colour blindness will be a step in the right direction.

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