A growing number of Japanese schools are adopting the “color universal design” system to ensure education materials meet the needs of people with color vision deficiency.
About 3 million people are believed to suffer from color blindness in Japan and activists are calling for greater educational support, with adoption of color schemes that can be easily identified by people with all types of color vision.
At Tonohiraga Elementary School in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, a teacher was explaining the stroke order of kanji on a blackboard using specially designed chalk in vermilion red, yellow, blue and green introduced last year.
Some people with color vision disabilities have a hard time distinguishing red and green in conventional chalk, but the special ones make it easier for them to discern such color differences.
The new chalks proved popular among students regardless of whether they have visual disabilities. For one thing, the red is visible even if direct sunlight is hitting the chalkboard, unlike normal chalk.
Hiroko Sakayori, who teaches the fourth grade, said, “Now I can use any chalks without worrying about (color-related problems).”
The Matsudo Board of Education began purchasing the chalk, which costs the same as the conventional version, in April and is gradually introducing it at public elementary and junior high schools in the city.
Some schools in the neighboring city of Kashiwa as well as in the city of Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, have also introduced the new chalk, though such cases are still rare.
In the academic year that ended in March 2004, color perception tests were removed from mandatory health checks at schools, making it difficult for parents and students themselves to determine disabilities with color vision.
In some cases, symptoms might go unnoticed for years while those with disabilities receive little educational assistance at schools, according to experts.
A 40-year-old woman from Koto Ward, Tokyo, said she was disappointed by the lack of understanding at the elementary school attended by her 8-year-old son, who has a color vision disability.
She asked the principal to pay consideration to her son and asked his teacher to use the special chalk, even offering to purchase some for the school.
But no substantial support was provided and the teacher said the school would keep using conventional chalk.
When the boy was in kindergarten, he mixed up green and red during craft activities. The mother then began creating special origami paper printed with the names of colors on their back. They are now available for sale online, where she also shares her experience raising her son.
“I want people to know about color vision disabilities and hope the website will serve as a source of emotional support for those people and their families,” she said.
The education ministry has urged boards of education to adopt textbooks geared for people with color vision disabilities.
So far, six textbook makers have been certified by the Color Universal Design Organization (CUDO), a Japanese nonprofit group. But most supplementary materials, workbooks and handouts are not designed to assist people who cannot easily distinguish colors.
For instance, a science exam question for third-graders asked whether there was any color difference between the images of a red ladybug and a black pill bug, a question difficult to answer for people with color vision disability.
Koichi Iga, deputy chairman of CUDO, said many are not aware of the varying abilities in color vision and special consideration is needed for people with such disabilities.
“We have to create an environment in which any child can equally receive education,” he said.
The special origami paper can be purchased at ohmykids.jp.