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Color blind cartographers?

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#1
David Medeiros

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A higher ed email list I subscribe to recently posted a question from a student who is considering changing careers to the GIS field. The student is 52, and color blind. I don't know what his current background is, or what type of color blindness he has.

 

The student is basically wondering if being color blind would be prohibitive to his entering a mapping field where visual design and color play a prominent role.

 

I responded that I thought his color blindness would be a challenge, but not enough to keep him out of the field of mapping. I  suggested that he may even find it an opportunity to develop work that is more subtle and sensitive than typical GIS output as he would need to think harder about about how he interprets or conveys visual data. He is in a sort of reverse role from what we normally think about as cartographers addressing color blindness, where we can see the full spectrum but need to create work that color blind individuals can still use and interpret, he needs to work in the opposite vein to some degree. And again I think there is an opportunity there for  innovation on his part.

 

Basically I advised that he search out other color blind individuals facing similar issues of working with visual design and color for advice and support, and that he dive in to GIS and see how he does.

 

Most of the other replies where positive, but one did recommend that if wanted to work with mapping and cartography that would  "almost certainly be out of the question".

 

That made me curious, how many of my fellow map makers are, or know of someone who is, color blind? Can you share your experiences?

 

Thanks,

David

 


GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#2
SteveR

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Color is important to those who can properly see it, but some very fine maps are printed in black and white.  An example would be the landform maps of Erwin Raisz, which would gain very little if they were published in color.

 

I once made geologic maps for a mining company whose president, a geologist, was color blind.  His attitude was that if he couldn't discern the colors it wasn't his fault, but ours.  Through trial and error we eventually determined that the only colors he could see well were black, yellow, and some browns, so our maps eventually made spectacular use of that portion of the spectrum, supplemented by different densities and rock type patterns. 

 

With modern computer mapping methods, I suspect selecting the best color scheme is a much smaller part of the map design process than it once was, but it may be difficult for a cartographer to find a job if he's color blind.

 

Steve Richardson

2i3D Stereo Imaging



#3
DaveB

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It depends on the amount and kind (quantity and quality?) of color-blindness. I have a very mild form of color-blindness, which has not been an issue in my work. At the more severe end, yes, it could make things more difficult, but not impossible. As Steve pointed out, there are very well-designed maps that are published in black and white. In addition, there are duotone maps, where once the 2 colors (often black and a second color) are set color-blindness shouldn't be much of a factor, even for those at the more severe end. There are also tools, defined color schemes, and other things people can use/do (such as getting input from others on color choices) to make color-blindness less critical.


Dave Barnes
Esri
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#4
Daniel Huffman

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I know quite a number of very skilled, color-vision-impaired* cartographers, who do good work in color. They are some of the best mapmakers I know, and a couple of them are quite widely-respected. I think, actually, that cartography may have a disproportionate number of practitioners with color vision impairments. I have standard color vision myself, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I would say that it shouldn't be a barrier at all. Someone with a CVI would have a different way of working, but I don't think they'll do any worse.

 

* Mark Harrower, who taught cartography at UW–Madison for many years, was color blind. But, he thought that "color vision impaired" was a better term. One reason is that it encompasses a wider variety of issues: while there are people who are "blind" to the distinctions between red and green, for example, there are also people who are not "blind" but still do have a weaker ability to distinguish them. Also, he said that sometimes when he told people he was color blind, they thought that meant a) he could see no colors at all, or B) things that were red were invisible to him. So, I use the term CVI.






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