Connor raising awareness of colorblindness. (Photo Source: ACS International Schools)
It’s estimated that one in 12 males and one in 200 females are colorblind (equating to nearly 3,000,000 people in England). By age 11, roughly 80% of students have never been screened for colorblindness, despite 75% having had a National Health Service eye test. This means that in every school across the UK, and indeed the world, there will be a significant number of colorblind students, with many not even aware of their condition.
I was one of the fortunate ones and was first diagnosed with colorblindness when I was eight years old. At that time, my parents noticed something wasn’t quite right with my eyesight and went to get me tested by my local general practitioner. But many young people don’t get this opportunity. Undiagnosed colorblindness in school can mean students miss important information, lose confidence, and ultimately become unwilling to learn. Even with my diagnosis, I still found my learning challenging as so much of schoolwork at a younger age is visual and reliant on effective eyesight.
At ACS Egham, all students are required to complete a personal, service-learning project as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP). For my project, I had no doubt that I wanted to focus on something close to my heart, raising awareness of colorblindness so learning can be inclusive and adjusted to suit individual needs.
My project started off with a goal of bringing color-correcting glasses into museums, local arts establishments, and parks so people could properly appreciate their environment. After a number of planning meetings and support from my teachers and ACS staff such as Mr. Bruce (drama teacher), Mr. Lawrie (partnerships director), and Mrs. Quelch (partnerships manager), we managed to establish a relationship with EnChroma. EnChroma is an independent, California-based company that develops glasses for colorblindness and provides online colorblind tests to improve the lives of people with the condition. The company very kindly agreed to send my school some EnChroma glasses, which are engineered with special optical filters which help people with color vision deficiency to see an expanded range of colors more vibrantly, clearly, and distinctly.
Armed with these new glasses, and supported by the ACS Partnerships team, I wanted to expand my project and decided to run quick, easy colorblind tests for the younger students at ACS Egham. We chose to focus on this age group as their learning is so image-led and they are more likely to be undiagnosed, and as a result, unsupported. So far, out of the 55 Lower School Students tested (aged 4-11), we found four who tested positive for color vision deficiency. Those students who were found to have color vision deficiency were then offered a follow-up assessment to confirm their results and type of colorblindness, of which there are three variations. Plus, the students’ parents and teachers have now been provided with advice and tools to adjust home life and learning accordingly. We were also lucky to receive further glasses from EnChroma at this point, to loan out to those students who needed them during lesson time.
In addition to impacting learning across the curriculum, being at a serious disadvantage in some subjects, and disrupting future careers, colorblindness can also be damaging to mental health. It’s extremely important, especially post-Covid-19, that we helped raise awareness and provided practical solutions amongst the school community. Thankfully, I’ve never suffered from mental health problems, but by seeing the world in a more “muted” light, and struggling with daily tasks, it’s easy to understand the link between the two.
Looking ahead, I’m planning on rolling out testing to the rest of ACS Egham’s students in due course. And, I hope, in time, this will be the start of a much bigger movement across ACS campuses, our partner schools, other IB World Schools, and wider education establishments in the UK.
My original goal of getting color-correcting glasses into tourist destinations and public parks is also progressing well. I’m so pleased to say that EnChroma glasses will soon be available for people with color vision deficiency to use at a local gallery and museum in Woking. And that’s not all, we’re already planning, and in discussions with, even more places to join us on our journey.
In September, I was so excited to find out that my project had been nominated as a finalist in the Rising Star category at the Independent School of the Year 2022 awards. The category celebrates student excellence and I felt so honored to have been recognized, especially because the project means so much to me. The awards ceremony is on 11 October and I’m looking forward to attending, being a part of something special, and building on the project in the future, whatever the outcome.
Connor Rule is a 17-year-old, Grade 12 student at ACS International School Egham.