Colour Blindness – ColorADD Changes Our World


Imagine if you will…James is working on a lesson in his arithmetic book and he is instructed to draw a straight line from a brown triangle to a red triangle.  James is troubled and confused because both colors look the same to him.  He takes a guess.  The teacher tells him not to be careless.  He has no idea where he went wrong - let alone why.

Children with color blindness are presented with daily challenges that have every possibility of triggering psychological insecurities, social despondency and an unwillingness to participate in sports and recreational activities.  Their world becomes exponentially smaller each time they experience frustration and failure.

Color blindness is a visual disability that affects 350 million people worldwide.  This number is equivalent to the combined populations of Canada and the United States of America.

Instructional materials are enhanced with vibrant colors to encourage class participation, to differentiate shapes, lines and textures and of course, to keep children engaged in their studies.  But how can children with color blindness understand what is being taught in school if they can’t see it?  How do you teach children what ‘red’ is if they cannot see the color red?

The Canadian Association of Optometrists states that one in six children has a vision problem making it difficult for learning comprehension, skills development and school performance and that only 14% of children in Canada under the age of 6 receive professional eye care.  Add color blindness to the mix and you can readily understand how difficult it would be for children to achieve success in school curricula, and be confident, sociable and happy in their everyday lives.

ColorADD, created and developed by Portuguese designer Miguel Neiva, is a universal color code identification system consisting of symbols that represent colors and color combinations, which ultimately enables color blind people to understand colors.ColorADD's early learning program puts the tools of its identification code in the hands of teachers and young learners, empowering them with a language for color identification that is inclusive and free of language barriers.

ColorADD, with operations in Canada, was presented the 2014 ‘World Summit Award’ by the United Nations for ‘Best Mobile Content’ in the category of ‘Inclusion and Empowerment’.  This significant United Nations Award acknowledges the work of ColorADD to make color accessible for everyone with color blindness.

Kenneth Caplan and Associates Limited is the exclusive Canadian representative of ColorADD, responsible for introducing and licensing ColorADD to businesses, government, educators and not-for-profit organizations - and for establishing ColorADD as a Canadian standard.

Kenneth Caplan is a catalytic man with an innate acumen for placing the right people with the right project – a winning combination. 

Veronika Bradley (VB): Are you color blind?

Kenneth Caplan: No, I am not.  I’m blind to other things, but not color blindness.

VB: Do you know someone who is color blind?

Kenneth Caplan:  Personally, I don’t know anyone who is color blind.  I know that there are a lot of celebrities and people of notoriety who are color blind, for instance, President Bill Clinton, Paul Newman, Bing Crosby, Bob Dole, Mr. (Fred) Rogers, Howie Mandel, Hugh Downs, Mark Twain, Mark Zuckerberg and Prince William, to name a few.  There’s a long list of people who have this disability and there’s never been too much discussion about it, but clearly, as we get into the current day where jobs are predicated on having certain visual qualities, there are restrictions on who can perform certain tasks. 

Color blindness is becoming more readily recognized as a constraint and that is why ColorADD is tackling it right at the primary school level. Children identified with color blindness will be given the necessary tools to deal with this color identification problem.

VB: How did you become the Canadian representative for ColorADD?

Kenneth Caplan:  A trade mission came to Canada last year led by Anibal Cavaco Silva, the President of Portugal.  Joao P. Pinto-Machado, the Director of ColorADD, was part of that mission as well.  I wasn’t completely aware of what color blindness was all about, but I had an opportunity to see some of the material and found it quite interesting.  It was within the realm of graphic identification, and since my business is built around branding, I suggested we sit down to have a discussion. 

I’ve been involved in programs that range from the design of the TD Bank Green Machine identity to the Canadian Cancer Society branding.  I have a long history in understanding how symbols work and that is really what drew me to the particular approach that Miguel Neiva, the designer of ColorADD, had created.

It took us a number of weeks to establish a working arrangement but as a result, my company, Kenneth Caplan and Associates, is the Canadian representative of ColorADD.

“To be able to use the same symbology whether you are in Europe, Asia, North America or South America is truly inclusive - a universal language of color.”

Kenneth Caplan, President
Kenneth Caplan & Associates,
Canadian Representative for ColorADD

It’s the intention of ColorADD to create partnerships that will increase its international presence and use worldwide - and it is clearly moving in that direction.

VB: How would a child with color-blindness benefit from ColorADD’s code identification system in a classroom?

Kenneth Caplan:  To begin with, I think we have to look at some of the issues.  Young students can become stifled in learning because of color blindness. They tend to lose self-confidence and withdraw from collaborative activities and suffer from other psychological barriers as well.

When there’s a color activity in the classroom and children are uncertain of which color to select, they will look at other students for guidance (suppressing

 their own creative approaches), go to the teacher for assistance or they’ll just withdraw from the classroom activity altogether.  So, all of these very important factors are at play.

This disability is not restricted just to children – adults have it too.

If you can’t tell the difference between green and ripe tomatoes, for example, or the difference between ketchup and chocolate – life can become a little muddy.  That’s why ColorADD is also looking at packaged foods and produce.  Fruit and vegetables are labelled with specific produce names and ColorADD is beginning to apply its color code identification to them.

VB: Color codes have been applied to clothing tags and labels as well

Kenneth Caplan:  Yes.  The labelling of colors has been one of the biggest and fastest applications.  Merchants and manufacturers understand there is a percentage of people in the market that do not have the ability to choose clothing properly; the addition of ColorADD’s labelling to fashion garments and apparel is making a huge difference. That’s why there’s been such a tremendous “ramp-up” in the use of ColorADD labels.  There are over 20 million color labels being used in Europe at this time.

VB: The color code icon is relatively small on a label or tag, and yet, to a color blind person, it opens a wide world of opportunity.  For a color blind person to pick up an item, look at the label, read the color code and know the color without having to rely on assistance instils freedom and independence. 

Kenneth Caplan:  If you have uncertainty, it is easy to become frustrated and decide not make your purchase or you reluctantly approach a sales person and ask for assistance.

One of the areas that we know is vitally important is paint samples and color tiles.  When you go into a Home Depot and visit the paint department there are large displays of color paint chips.  I can’t imagine a color blind person attempting to decipher all that visual information.  I suppose they would write down the name of the paint color and at the same time, struggle to decide what that color means.  With ColorADD, a symbol

indicates precisely the color category for each paint chip.  To be able to use the same symbology whether you are in Europe, Asia, North America or South America is truly inclusive - a universal language of color.

VB: Symptoms of color blindness can be detected during a child’s first few years at school.  Vision testing programs within the educational system do exist in some cities across Canada, but the majority of students are not tested.  According to the Toronto District School Board, vision testing occurs in Grades 5 and 7 at some inner city schools.  Color blindness tests are performed by an optometry clinic upon referral.  Perhaps this is too little - too late.  Do you agree?

Kenneth Caplan:  ColorADD begins its process in Grade 4, which is the optimum grade.  Prior to grade four, children cannot concentrate efficiently to provide true results in the color assessment study. 

ColorADD, working with ophthalmologists and optometrists, has developed programs in Europe in conjunction with its learning system.  Over 1,000 students have been tested with ColorADD within the studies program - which is ongoing. 

School boards need to determine if there is an opportunity to fit an additional class with ColorADD instruction into their curriculum.  York Region District School Board, very progressive in its thinking and at the leading edge of educational development, is seriously looking at this opportunity.

VB:  More school boards need to take advantage of this opportunity.

Kenneth Caplan:  Exactly.  The Ministry of Education in Saskatchewan is also interested. It has put out requests to the local boards seeking a school that could handle a pilot project.  We believe this is a good way to go – starting with a pilot class to determine whether changes need to be made from the model in Portugal and build a Canadian design that will meet the needs of teaching and instruction here in Canada.

VB: The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the National Coalition for

Vision Health and the Canadian Paediatric Society highly recommend routine standard vision testing for school-age children and youth across the country.  Will color blind testing be included in the routine standard vision test?

Kenneth Caplan: The Canadian Ophthalmological Society representing eye physicians and surgeons has expressed interest in working with ColorADD and we’re currently looking for the right opportunity to launch our participation with them.  They have reached out to their members to inform them about ColorADD. Pharmaceutical companies have also shown interest in our programs.

The PAC, Packaging Consortium recognizes that there is a business proposition here.  We’ve been given good coverage, website presence, the ability to reach out to PAC members to introduce ColorADD - and at the right time, ColorADD will be applied to packaging.

We are very anxious for the teaching of the ColorADD system to commence in Canada.  The processes have worked so successfully in Portugal that they are building a generation of students who are totally conversant with the ColorADD identification system. 

Two things have to work hand in hand: education has to take place and merchants and corporate adopters need to apply it.

When you are able to view the identification color codes on a transit system, at a sports venue or in a hospital, you realize it’s a second language - an automatic language. 

“The processes have worked so successfully in Portugal that they are building a generation of students who are totally conversant with the ColorADD identification system.” 

Kenneth Caplan, President
Kenneth Caplan & Associates,
Canadian Representative for ColorADD

Ottawa Transit is looking at ColorADD for the new “O-Train” signage program.

When transit signs were first introduced, people with color blindness couldn’t read the information properly.  Mayor Jim Watson recognized there was a problem so when I approached him and detailed the success of ColorADD with the transit system in Porto, Portugal, he was very interested.

ColorADD is a proven, universal system that can provide a fully inclusive solution for Ottawa Transit users.

VB:  The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that one out of every ten males

is color blind, which is equivalent to 350 million people worldwide.  You would have no way of knowing if the person sitting next to you at the office or the person walking beside you on a street is color blind.

Kenneth Caplan:  Most people don’t talk about color blindness unless you happen to ask a specific question but we know it is becoming more of an issue.  If nothing else, to change the mindset of the education system for children who are struggling with certain aspects of their learning skills because of color blindness needs to be assessed.  Children who have color blindness are not going to talk about it.  Testing is a vitally important part of this whole process.

There are two aspects to ColorADD: teaching children the color code system and integrating a system that teaches the “color additive theory” – how colors combine to form secondary and tertiary colors.  It’s the basic understanding of the world of color, which is a very creative process. 

I studied color in college and I’ve used it all my life as a graphic designer.  You have to look at complimentary colors and opposing colors, mid-color ranges, motivational colors and recessive colors.  Children who comprehend this concept at an early age are going to add wealth to their knowledge, and ultimately, it will affect how they perceive the world around them. 

VB: Everything that I have learned from this conversation tells me that it’s not a question whether the ColorADD identification system will become an international standard - but when.  

“Children who have color blindness are not going to talk about it.  Testing is a vitally important part of this whole process.”

Kenneth Caplan, President
Kenneth Caplan & Associates,
Canadian Representative for ColorADD

ColorADD has implemented work in diversified areas in Ireland, Brazil, Angola, USA and Japan - to name just a few countries on four continents.

I just received a portfolio of photos from ColorADD Portugal showing classroom activities and adults viewing the ColorADD system using red-green glasses.  They look like they are watching a 3-D movie from the 80’s, but in fact, they are looking at the system the way a color blind person would see it.  The point of this exercise is to explain visually what happens if you lack red-green receptors in your vision.  Those 3-D glasses do a pretty good job of replicating color blindness.

VB:  This program is not only about a visual identification aid for color blind people, but also about teaching people who don’t have color blindness what a color blind person sees.

Kenneth Caplan:  That’s exactly it.  You’re a parent and not aware that your child has color blindness.  Your child turns to you and says, “I would really like to have this red apple.”  You know that the apple is green.  You also know there’s an issue here.

This is such a wonderful program that has been created with a very high level of social value – and that’s why it is was

recognized by the United Nations with the 2014 ‘World Summit Award’ for Best Mobile Content.  What a great honour.

ColorADD received the 2013 ‘Vodafone Foundation Mobile for Good Europe’ Award in the Accessibility category.  There is excellent recognition that is building.

VB:  And acceptance.

Icograda, International Council of Design, based in Montréal, Québec states, “Based on the notion of 'inclusion', ColorAdd® is a monochromatic graphic code that allows color blind users (representing about 10% of the world's population) to identify colors in situations where it is the key factor in decision-making, without dependence on third parties nor the discomfort of uncertainty.”

Kenneth Caplan:  Yes, and acceptance.  With organizations like Ashoka and Boehringer Ingelheim supporting the development of ColorADD in Europe, we expect, within time, to have sponsors on board as well.

VB: Are there any roadblocks in establishing ColorADD as a universal identification and accessibility standard?

Kenneth Caplan:  The real roadblock is administrative – an implementation roadblock.  Everyone is enthusiastic - there’s no question about it.  Members of school boards are eager to take on the program but it has to fit within a curriculum, and there has to be at least one teacher who is prepared to become a champion of the program - administering it as well as teaching it.  There will be a certain cost to the school board for the additional work by the employees and the administrators at that level.

At a commercial level, talking to Ottawa Transit about signage, it’s not just a matter of recreating signs and directories with the ColorADD code but also integrating the many collateral elements that comprise Ottawa Transit’s communication programs.  There’s a whole system that goes along with it. 

Color Blindness Awareness, an international organization advocating for people with color blindness, wrote a report critical of the 2012 London Olympics for not having sufficient accessibility standards.  They also recommended that ColorADD be adopted for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  That’s a work in progress and I hope it will take place.

It’s a fairly serious undertaking and we recognize that it’s going to take a while; nevertheless, in Europe, it is being successfully implemented.  The transit system in Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, is fully integrated with ColorADD mapping and pathways.  Two of the largest hospitals, one in Lisbon and one in Porto, use ColorADD in their directories and pathway indicators both externally and within the hospital.  They are also using it for triage labelling, patient ID

wristbands and pharmaceutical color identification.  There’s a vast array of uses within hospitals.

Libraries are now coding books with ColorADD symbols.  It’s virtually the same process.  If you’re looking for a particular book, the librarian can direct you to the area where the vertical triangle appears and that’s where you will find the green label for the book you want.  The color code system shortcuts the entire process for a color blind person.

ColorADD coding on pencils and markers has tremendously increased the sale of those products.  We are reaching out to North American manufacturers to join the ColorADD movement with their own brands.

Viarco, a company in Portugal, has adopted the ColorADD system and today, all Viarco colored pencil sets carry the code.  This is a great product for color blind kids!  When parents purchase these pencils and markers for their children, whether for use at school or home, they’re purchasing an advanced creative product.  There’s a direct correlation to supporting ColorADD and making a sound business decision by adopting the program.

Step by step, we are building a strong base of awareness and keeping in touch with those people who are expressing interest.  We know it’s a matter of timing, particularly among school boards, but with commercial organizations as well.  It has to fit into their production processes and marketing strategies.

VB:  I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to speak with you.  This story reminds me of the movie, “The Wizard of

Oz” that begins in black and white.  Dorothy and Toto are at home in Kansas when they are caught up in a terrific tornado.  The house is swept sky high with powerful winds and then it comes spiralling down - landing with a thud.  Dorothy slowly opens the weatherworn, front door revealing a vivid, colored scene of Munchkinland with a riot of brightly colored flowers, blue cloudless skies, blossoming trees and the infamous yellow brick road. Kenneth Caplan: That’s wonderful.  The slogan of ColorADD, “COLOR IS FOR ALL!” is the essence of this program and we are very excited about it. I appreciate you having the interest to contact me.  I wanted to reach out to you because I could see you were already addressing some of the issues of color blindness on your website.  There seems to be a real synergy between our activities and yours. When I saw ColorADD at the Trade Mission, I said to myself, “This is a program that I would like to be involved in.  It has longevity and is creative and socially significant.” It was on those two levels that ColorADD really met my goals as an individual and as a creative person.  I would like to leave something to Canada in the form of a better approach to recognizing a person’s disability in society and providing a solution for it.  That’s what ColorADD is doing.

Here’s how ColorADD App works!

  • Point the camera on your mobile device at an object you want identified by color
  • Tap the chromatic ring once to freeze the image
  • Tap in the area of the image you want to identify by color
  • The ColorADD app gives you the name and color symbol on the screen
  • You can analyze the image you saved on the mobile device
  • Double tap the chromatic viewfinder to go back to normal view

The ColorADD code is intuitive.  With five simple graphic symbols representing cyan, yellow, magenta, black and white, the user is able to logically visualize the overall color interpretation of the image.

The code is based on five base signs that represent each of the five colors:

  • Blue: triangle angled downwards
  • Yellow: diagonal line
  • Red: triangle angled upwards
  • White: empty square box
  • Black: solid square box

Colors derived from other colors contain the symbols of the combined colors, creating derivative colors (orange, green, purple and brown) and dark or white tones.  Metalicized colors such as silver or gold are portrayed with a left parenthesis on the symbols. 

Examples of colors and combinations are shown below.

“There are two aspects to ColorADD: teaching children the color code system and integrating a system that teaches the ‘color additive theory’ – how colors combine to form secondary and tertiary colors.  It’s the basic understanding of the world of color, which is a very creative process.” 

Kenneth Caplan, President
Kenneth Caplan & Associates,
Canadian Representative for ColorADD, 2015

The Vital Role of Colors

Ellen Booth Church, former professor of early childhood, a current educational consultant, keynote speaker and author, wrote an article titled, “Why Colors and Shapes Matter,” published by Scholastic.  The following excerpt is from this article: “Color and shape are ways children observe and categorize what they see.  These very recognizable characteristics encourage children to define and organize the diverse world around them.

When young children are asked to mathematically sort objects (such as leaves, rocks, shells, or keys) they usually use the most obvious attributes of color and shape, plus size, to categorize the items.  When your child plays, he uses sorting and classifying skills as he observes similarities and differences of color and shape, makes comparisons, and organizes this information into piles.

This seemingly simple process (that we use every week when we sort the laundry or find things in the grocery aisles) is the foundation for living in a mathematical world.  Sorting by color and shape prepares your child for the future application of these skills in making graphs or searching for a book at the library.

These first teachings in preschool and kindergarten are basics that your child needs to know before he learns the "other basics" of reading, writing, and math.  Understanding color and shape is a tool for learning many skills in all curriculum areas, from math and science to language and reading.”

Kathryn Albany-Ward founded Color Blind Awareness after she discovered her son was diagnosed with a severe form of deuteranopia.  The disability is not considered a ‘Special Educational Need’

and therefore, color blind children are generally overlooked in school.  Kathryn wrote the following statement:

“Color vision deficiency (CVD) affects 1 in 12 boys and 1 in 200 girls.  There are approximately 400,000 color blind pupils in British schools today but teachers receive no training on the condition.  40% of children do not know they are color blind on leaving school; therefore, teachers are not even likely to be aware that some children they teach have the condition.  Likewise, most parents are unaware of their child’s condition.

Lack of awareness by children does not mean they are not affected by the condition, it means they have developed strategies to help them cope.  Even if children cope well there will be times when the strategy does not work and they are caught out.  Not all CVD children are red/green color blind, some cannot see blue and yellow - some see no color at all.

Color blind children do not just confuse red and green, they are unable to distinguish any colors that contain red or green.  They will see purple as blue because they cannot perceive the red element of the light spectrum, which is added to blue to form the color purple.  Therefore, all reds, greens, oranges, browns, purples, blues and greys will be impossible to identify accurately.

Most CVD children try to hide their condition for fear of being marked out as different.  It is extremely important that classroom practices take account of the needs of color blind pupils.”

Based in the United Kingdom, Color Blind Awareness provides knowledge and support for color blind children, their families and teachers, and offers advice to professionals in the field. 

Interesting Facts

  • Approximately 10% of the male population or 350 million people worldwide are color blind.
  • 37% of the color blind population does not know which type of color blindness they have.
  • 59% of the color blind population can only identify some colors.
  • 42% of the color blind population finds it difficult to integrate socially.
  • Color blindness can limit career choices - police officers, fire fighters, hospital technicians, pharmacists, train and railway technicians, electricians, paint, paper and textile employees, web designers and air traffic controllers require accurate color recognition.
  • The colors ‘red and green’ are the most relevant colors used in global communication including traffic signals, railway crossings, maps, flags, running lights for boats and airplanes, underground parking and on/off buttons – to name a few. Ironically, these colors cause the most confusion with people who suffer from color blindness.

ColorADD Awards and Distinctions

World Summit Award – ColorADD was presented the 2014 ‘World Summit Award’ by the United Nations for ‘Best Mobile Content’ in the category of ‘Inclusion and Empowerment’. 

“Social & Business Co-Creation: Collaboration for Impact” – Ashoka, the Zermatt Summit Foundation, Fondation Guilé, DPD and Boehringer Ingelheim announced ColorADD as a finalist in the European competition in 2014.

Zero Project, for a World Without Barriers” - ColorADD was selected as one of the 54 Innovative Practices of 2014.

“Vodafone Mobile Awards” – ColorADD App won first prize for the ‘Vodafone Foundation Mobile for Good Europe Awards 2013” in the Accessibility category.

The Portuguese Government awarded a gold medal commemorating the “50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to Miguel Neiva, Master of Design, Communication and Marketing.

“Ashoka Fellow” - In 2013, Miguel Neiva, author of the color identification code, was named the first Portuguese “Fellow of Ashoka” by Boehringer Ingelheim.  Ashoka is the world’s largest network organization of Social Entrepreneurs who support socially innovative ideas with “potential to change the world.”

Last January, ColorADD received recognition and joined B Corp based in the United States.  Member companies are certified by the nonprofit B Lab meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.  Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries working together toward one unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

Kenneth Caplan is a multi-disciplined marketer and brand innovator.  

His extensive career as president of Kenneth Caplan and Associates Limited (KC&A) includes award-winning involvement with industry icons in the fields of banking, hospitality, publishing, aerospace, property development, health, advanced manufacturing, consumer packaging, ICT, pharmaceuticals, education, tourism and economic development where he spearheaded brand competitiveness programs and investment attraction strategies for corporate clients - as well as towns, cities and senior levels of government.

In collaboration with domestic and international partners, KC&A also facilitates business matching projects and new ventures.

The company’s alignment with media organizations in Brazil, China as well as Canada and other locales provides KC&A clients with superior access to consumers, B2B customers and financial audiences.

Acquiring exclusive representation of ColorADD has enabled KC&A to bring this innovative and socially significant, international program to Canada and all Canadians, for whom accessibility and inclusiveness are increasingly important and recognized under law.

‘New Knowledge for a New Economy’, a mass media print and online supplement focusing on the contributions of colleges and universities to Canada's economic competitiveness and innovation, is published by KC&A.

Kenneth Caplan is a member of EDCO, the PAC, Packaging Consortium and is a past president of the Graphic Designers of Canada.  For more information, visit

The City of Toronto honoured Kenneth Caplan and Associates Limited (KC&A) with a special ‘Award of Recognition’ for contributing to the city’s economic prosperity and for developing the theme “Toronto – Canada’s Business Address.”

The brand-based economic development campaign won “Best of Show” at the EDCO Marketing Awards.

Needing to attract new business and investment after the closure of the National Defence Air Base in North Bay, the city retained KC&A to develop a comprehensive brand strategy and marketing campaign that provided fresh impetus for North Bay’s visibility, outreach and business attraction. 

Aside:  Being Canadian, an editor and a stickler for detail, it is difficult to spell the word ‘colour’ without a ‘u’, aka the American way, but taking into consideration the context of this article; I would be amiss in not bending the rules.

How to Purchase ColorADD App

ColorAdd app is available at the iTunes App Store.

When you purchase this App, you are contributing to ColorADD’s Social Responsibility Program, which promotes early diagnosis of color blindness within the educational system. 


For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles and websites:

Color Vision Deficiency – National Health Service (NHS) – symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and implications

Advice for Teachers of Color Blind Students – Color Blind Awareness

What Teachers, School Nurses and Parents Should Know about Being Color Blind – Dr. Terrace.  L. Waggoner, optometrist and color vision expert

ColorVisionTesting - This website defines the different types of color blindness and new "paediatric" color vision testing for early detection

Color Blindness – Children’s Health and Safety Association (CHASA

Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following videos:

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Written by Veronika Bradley for Children’s Health and Safety Association – January 2015 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019


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