Can colour blindness amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act?

Can colour blindness amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act? Not in the circumstances put forward in a recent case which went before an Employment Tribunal.

Background

In Bessell v. the Chief Constable of Dorset Police, he claimant suffered from Deuteranopia, which is colloquially known as red/green colour blindness.

Employment Law Colour Blind Disability Equality Tribunal Discrimination Unfair Lawyer Scotland

The claimant's impairment made it difficult for him to distinguish a number of colours; not just red and green. The claimant also had difficulty distinguishing between grey and pink.

In order to satisfy the test for disability status within the Equality Act 2010, the claimant had to show to the tribunal that his impairments had a "substantial and long term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".

The claimant relied on three activities which were conceded to be normal day-to-day activities. These were:

  1. Cooking
    The claimant explained that he could not tell by colour whether meat or fish was fresh but used smell, touch and other cues to tell. He could not tell whether chicken was undercooked just by looking at it but could and did use a skewer to test to see whether the juices were clear.
  2. Reading/interpreting documents/text
    The claimant explained that if a form had grey and pink sections that it would cause him some initial difficulty but once he had completed it once or twice he knew where the information was to be put. He could ask a colleague to check if he was unsure. The colours used on subway maps were of no assistance to him but he could look at destinations and other information about the lines.
  3. Watching sport
    Watching football or rugby did not generally give rise to any difficulties for the claimant but he did have difficulty in identifying the brown and green balls in snooker unless they were on their spots. However, when they came into play that would generally be made clear by commentary.

Did the claimant's colour blindness create a substantial adverse effect on any of the day-to-day activities upon which he relied?

On balance the tribunal did not find that the claimant was a disabled person for the purposes of the Equality Act.

The reason for this was that the claimant had adopted various coping strategies to deal with the various issues raised. These were reasonable strategies to adopt.

The tribunal found that therefore it could not be said that the colour blindness had a substantial adverse effect on the day-to-day activities relied on.

Comment

Colour blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. In Britain this means that there are approximately 2.7 million colour blind people (about 4.5% of the entire population), most of whom are male.
Most colour blind people are able to see things as clearly as other people but they are unable to fully ‘see’ red, green or blue light. There are different types of colour blindness and there are extremely rare cases where people are unable to see any colour at all.

The case is not s proposition for the statement that colour blindness can never amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act; but rather shows that it could not amount a disability in the circumstances of the case given the limited impact on the day-to-day activities, which could be easily dealt with through simple coping strategies.

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