/ Colour Blindness and the Gym Grading System

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Garethza - on 07 May 2019

As a climber who is affected by colour blindness I find it very difficult sometimes to differentiate routes from one another and I believe i am definitely not alone: 

"Colour (color) blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. In Britain this means that there are approximately 3 million colour blind people (about 4.5% of the entire population), most of whom are male." - http://www.colourblindawareness.org/colour-blindness/ 

So my question is the following: Why do indoor climbing gyms solely rely on colour to communicate the grading of routes? (This seems to be more of a bouldering issue but is also prevalent on lead walls) 

I know in my own personal case I really struggle when there are blue and purple routes next to each other which makes me second guess every move I make, sometimes I have someone shout out which one is which, but this is not always possible which can make it quite frustrating. I generally memorise the hold types/sets and use that knowledge to figure out where the route goes. 

Personally I feel that climbing gyms need to become more aware of this problem and I thought this would make a great platform to share my thoughts on how climbing gyms can become more colour-blind friendly:

1. Mountain bike trail signage has been doing it right for a while

If you have ever been mountain biking you will notice that the trail signage always uses colours to indicate the different trails (Green, blue, red, black etc) however they also include the colour name or difficulty level as text within the graphic. This can easily be replicated in climbing gyms by including the colour name as text on the little start tags.

2. Use patterns and colours for start tags (Like black and white graphs)

By utilising a different pattern (Stripes, diagonals, stars etc) AND colour for each grading level - anyone will be able to tell the difference easily.

Limitations

Obviously not every hold will be tagged up as its generally only the start holds that are tagged so what about the rest of the route? My personal advice would be to set contrasting colours next to each other rather than colours that are very similar. This is not always possible but a little bit of thought by the route setters would be much appreciated! 

This is just a few ideas off the top of my head but I hope this post can help bring this problem into the spotlight and just get gyms thinking about those pesky colour tags! 

Feel free to add any other ideas for differentiating routes

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Southvillain - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

I suffer from the same problem. My bete noires are `grey' and `mint', and some `orange' and `yellows'. I also have to operate on the `watch someone else and memorize the sequence' and/or `that's far too larges/small to be X grade'. Mind you, non-colour blind climbers also suffer because pretty much anything below a certain size tends become a generic `dirty chalk' colour, especially when viewed from above.  I moan about it to the staff/setters if two similar (to me) colours are used on the same section, but it still happens. I'm not sure I can think of a practical solution that doesn't involve a lot of faff/signage/clutter.

PS. But it makes it easier to explain away the occasional cheat...

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Ned on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

I'm colour blind as well and I really feel you. Blue/purple, red/green and sometimes the grey/pink/beige routes are difficult to differentiate, especially when everything is covered in chalk and rubber. Reading routes from the ground with assistance from a mate helps, as does looking for themed holds, but even so, it can really break the flow of a route to have to stop and try to work out which hold to use. It's also embarrassing to have to explain to belayers over and over about which holds you can and can't see and why you aren't just cheating outrageously.

Yep, of what I've seen a few walls (though mainly bouldering places) already use patterned holds with a couple of colours, which makes everything easier. Also, newer walls tend to be better in general as they have decent lighting and the holds are brighter colours, but there's still a long way to go.

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SDM on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Some walls set their lead walls to ensure they avoid putting colour combinations that cause a lot of people problems on the same line. So they wouldn't put a red and a green route on the same line or blue and purple etc.

For bouldering, this is much harder if they use coloured circuits. If you have a lot of circuits, it is hard to avoid having clashes somewhere. Using different styles of holds can help (e.g putting a purple pocket problem next to a blue slopey problem) as can having different saturation levels, good lighting and keeping the holds reasonably clean.

My colour blindness isn't too severe, when I'm bouldering I just ask someone else if I'm not sure whether a hold is in or not. At my local wall, I'm familiar enough with most of the holds to be able to work it out anyway. It's much harder for me on a lead wall; put a red route and a green route on the same line and all the holds above about 10m will look identical to me so I can't route read from the ground. A poorly lit bouldering cave gives me the same problem. 

I think tagging holds causes more problems than it solves. I don't think there is a solution that will make it perfect for colour blind people. Walls being of the issue, having decent lighting, buying appropriate coloured holds and making their setters aware is the best you can hope for. Bring a laser pointer for a friend if it's still causing problems.

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krikoman - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Unless your belay partner is colour blind too, why not just ask them?

That's what my mate does, either that or uses anything he wants

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Somerset swede basher - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

As you point out, it's only 4.5% of the population. Most of these are probably only slightly rather than fully colour blind. Almost any change costs money. It's probably not worth it.

I too struggle if routes are very similar but if I grab a purple instead of a blue it's not the end of the world. I find I'm often more colour blind towards the top of pumpy routes ;-) 

Post edited at 14:47
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afshapes - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

I've asked my local gym a number of times to be mindful of the colours they use.  Ideally good contrasting colours instead of red routes next to black routes,  pale blue next to pink and purple it would be better to have black and white routes,  blue and orange,  red and white anything really.  

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wintertree - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

> Feel free to add any other ideas for differentiating routes

Far from ideal as you could only use it from the ground, but what about a mobile phone app that re-colours an image to differentiates a colour of your choice to one that you can perceive?

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Offwidth - on 07 May 2019
In reply to SDM:

Good post. Technically you are asking for redundant information coding for colour blind users... another indicator of the hold other than it's colour.  Texture or hold style is pretty easy these days for walls.

Walls can photograph holds and upload them to web page colour blind testing pages. Eg.

https://www.toptal.com/designers/colorfilter/

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pasbury on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Couldn't the attachment bolts be coded somehow too? Just black or white anodised ones on overlapping problems would help and it wouldn't cost much extra.

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Lia on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza: 

I was pleased to read this post. I sort of agree with the comment about walls not bothering if it's costly, but I can't see too many cost implications caused by setters simply being aware and not putting similar colours (or the common colour blind combinations) on the same line. I'm sure this would have benefit for others as well. At the bouldering wall it's generally not a huge issue for me as there's not so many holds to memorise, but I definitely have trouble trying to onsight at my limit on sport walls if there are similar shades on the same line. I'm red/green colour blind but it's mainly light colours that cause me the most issue. Especially purples/lilacs/pinks.

Post edited at 18:58
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John Stainforth - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

My color perceptive is usually very good, but color blindness tends to creep in when I am finding a route too hard! 

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balmybaldwin - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Lia:

Isn't part of the problem that colourblindness is different for different people and a solution e.g. no red next to green may help some but lead to more Blue/Green combinations which are worse for a different group.

I think the answer is spots/plain/stripped  like we had to use for graphs etc before colour printing was common

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SDM on 07 May 2019
In reply to balmybaldwin:

Patterns on holds aren't visible on small holds.

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Presley Whippet on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

I think you may be asking a little too much. Walls can't even keep similar colours off the same panels to help fully sighted folks differentiate between holds.

A full spectrum of colours, plus patterns plus spots, swirls etc, and the still put similar colours on the same lines. 

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Luke90 on 07 May 2019
In reply to balmybaldwin:

> Isn't part of the problem that colourblindness is different for different people and a solution e.g. no red next to green may help some but lead to more Blue/Green combinations which are worse for a different group.

Quite. Just look at the variety of responses on this thread that give different answers for the combos that cause them problems and what they'd prefer to see.

I'd certainly support walls doing what they can to help out but it's clearly not an easy problem to solve.

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Lord_ash2000 - on 07 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

They do also make spotty, swirly or stripy holds which would make it easier to distinguish between routes. But if you used them a lot it would start getting hard to tell one set of swirls from another. But maybe one set a line would make it pretty easy to spot or avoid depending on which your going for. (spots of solids)

In some walls, I struggle to tell the difference in colours and I'm not colour blind, it's just when you've got dirty holds, and setters who don't see an issue with setting an orange, yellow and sand colour on the same line it can lead to problems. White with boot rubber and grey with chalk on can look pretty similar from below sometimes too. 

Post edited at 21:37
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fammer - on 08 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Common here in Japan is for every route to have coloured tape matching the colour of the holds tagged on every hold on the route (with a note for start and end holds written on the tape). The tape is then applied in different patterns if they're using the same colours near each other (ie. zig zag, l-shapes, straight lines, little crosses). 

I found it a nightmare when I first started climbing here as they're often putting two routes of the same colour right next to each other, but it doesn't take long to get used to just looking for the tape.

Another advantage is they can set weekly/monthly problems without changing holds just by putting some new tape on the wall (using a mixture of coloured holds). 

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thepodge on 08 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Totally impractical but how about giant Moon board style walls with blinking LEDs? 

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Garethza - on 08 May 2019

Wow, I didnt expect so many replies from people with the same issues. Clearly there are more people suffering from this frustrating issue when they are climbing indoors than I thought initially. 

It would be great if a route setter or gym manager could give us their opinion on the issue and whether or not they have tried to mitigate this issue in the past with any results - good or bad?

Some of the solutions are interesting, especially the different anodised bolts as all holds need bolts to fix them on the wall (Some foot holds dont have them but its good enough I guess) so there is a possibility to do something with them - whether that is changing their colour or some other sort of key identifying feature on the bolt.

I think some people have also missed the point here a bit by saying 'it doesnt matter what colour you use - just climb' or if you cheat sometimes it's fine. If that was the case then I wouldnt have highlighted this issue and I would just climb rainbows all day.. ! It's very frustrating to want to onsight a route but then be shut down by getting too pumped because you cant figure out which hold to use. 

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stevevans5 on 08 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

One of the places I climb moved away from colours to tagging the start holds with the grade. The other advantage of doing it this way allows routes at all grades using the different hold sets (as the different colours usually are a different style also). 

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nniff - on 08 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

I asked this question a while ago from a non-colour-blindness  perspective and got a clear answer as to why colour separation on adjacent panels was often just not practical (e.g. grey and black, or red and red/white).  As a logical extension of the problem, avoiding common colour-blindness colour juxtapositions is even more unlikely.  Tags are possible, but they often get damaged.  I had a colour-blind partner for some years - I used a laser pointer to point out holds to him.  He, as a belayer, was of course no help to me deciding if a chalky hold in poor light was in or out.

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Offwidth - on 08 May 2019
In reply to pasbury:

Thats a cheap and very practical idea.

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Irk the Purist - on 08 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

How about LED lights set in the wall such that they shine from holes in the holds.

When a climber wants to climb they select the route using a controller (buttons on wall or an app) and the route lights up before them.

Would help everyone.

A bit pricey, but would make a better experience and literally 1000s of routes could be programmed in at a time. You could have personalised challenges linked to a fob you carry. So as you approach a wall it automatically gives you a route set to your preference (grade, style etc)

I'm off down the patent office.

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pasbury on 08 May 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

I’ve been thinking about it a bit more. I’m not colour blind so I don’t know how you would colour code bolt heads in a helpful way, hence the black and white suggestion which would only allow two problems to be distinguished.

Maybe a stamped symbol on a bolt head could work?

I don’t know why I got two dislikes for my suggestion, I’m trying to help people.

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Offwidth - on 09 May 2019
In reply to pasbury:

Sadly dislikes are a good sign here. I occasionally work in project design for colour redundancy and projects on colour blindness and I think its a great idea. Wish I thought if it myself. I often wish I had more students interested as I have built up some good resources that often sit all year in a filing cabinet. I'm quite impressed by the latest colour blind glasses that really seem to help some people (by clever selection of spectral filtering).

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Garethza - on 09 May 2019
In reply to Irk the Purist:

Great Idea - however i may burst your bubble as it already exists and its called a MoonBoard! They are great - if you can do any of the problems on them! 

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kenr - on 10 May 2019
In reply to thepodge:
> "how about giant Moon board style walls with blinking LEDs?"

Electronic tagging is the obvious long-term solution, and might have other advantages.

My bet is that in ten years the leading climbing gyms will be offering Augmented Reality environments and everybody climbing will be wearing special glasses.

People will then look back on climbing in our current Plain Old Ordinary Reality static-hold non-interactive walls as just boring.

Ken

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Offwidth - on 10 May 2019
In reply to kenr:

Complete twaddle.. mind you, I'm only an academic engineer who works with VR experts so what would I know..

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griffer boy - on 11 May 2019
In reply to Garethza:

Moons not the only one , tension boards, kilter and of course Digital Training Boards all use leds. 

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griffer boy - on 11 May 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

I agree with Offwidth, did some VR routes in the garage very odd and not that goo , but then again technology will improve

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Offwidth - on 11 May 2019
In reply to griffer boy:

I can see the AR technology improving a lot in the next decade but its still going to be a gimmick and there are numerous H&S issues to resolve for public use in a climbing wall and it will add a lot of cost. Most walls or most climbers simply won't be interested in the near future. A small number of rich climbers will I'm sure be doing it.

The tests I've done on colour blind glasses (eg the En Chroma) do seem to demonstrate significant improvement for colour blind users. If there are any colour blind climbers who can make it to the next Peak Area BMC meeting (or my local walls in Nottingham) I could lend a pair, if they agree to see if it improves their indoor climbing hold colour discrimination and to fill in a research response form later

Post edited at 14:17
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