Colors and blind people

Is there any way a blind person can tell what color something is, other than asking someone? For example, some kind of test that would show, in a non-visual way, an object’s color?

How can you understand a colour in a non visual way?
Blind people (that have been 100% blind since birth) dont see anything.
It may be hard to comprehend but i always think of it this way…
Keep your head facing forward and move your eyes as far left as possible, What do you see that is just past the point of your vision? Nothing.
Tell me if you dont understand…

In the movie Mask, the kid showed his blind girlfriend color through touch; ice being blue, heat being red, etc. But I don’t know of any way you could transfer the sense of sight to another sense. Sure would be cool if it could be done.

Colour is visual, so I doubt there is a non-visual test for colour. People who have been blind since birth, for example, have only auditory dreams, not visual, and certainly not of colours.

That’s not what I meant; obviously a blind person can’t perceive color. But if I give him a green piece of paper, is there any test he can perform on that paper that would tell him that other people perceive it as being green?

No - he can only ask a sighted person what color the paper is, if he cares.

Yes, it would be relatively simple to set up a computer program with a scanner that would identify the colour, alternatively, a small inexpensive device (probably about the size of a marker pen, I reckon) could be constructed that would measure the colour components of an object and give an audible readout.

There probably aren’t as many reasons why information about the colour of an object would be as important to a totally blind person as it would be to a sighted individual; I suppose co-ordination of clothing might be one possible application, but it is terribly subjective and how would the blind person know what colours combine well and which ones clash?

I hasten to add that electronic imaging does not exactly mimic visual perception, so it would have trouble with some colours; other finishes (such as metallic or holographic ones) also do not work well.

Generally, there’s no way to describe colors except in terms of other colors. You can measure the wavelengths of the light they reflect (which I guess would be how the machines Mangetout mentions works), but those are light, thus they’re visual. The blind person can’t detect the color by touch or any other sense. I imagine you could make a machine that measured the wavelengths of the light and mapped them into audio frequencies, thus giving different colors and shades their own sounds. But that wouldn’t really be describing the color at all.

Cataloguing light wavelengths would be able to show that material x is the same colour as material y (a scanner, digicam, etc, would be a good but imperfect way of doing this). After all, we can’t know how green is percieved by someone else anyway, only that different people percieve the same things to be the same colours. Though it might be difficult to turn wavelength into a description of colour (iirc colour perception is slightly effected by upbringing)

That doesn’t help a whole lot to know that a mailbox is blue and a fire hydrant is red, though…

Seriously, a blind person does not need to “understand” color in order to work with it. If you told your blind friend, “I saw a green dog today,” they don’t have to know what green looks like to know that that’s unusual.

To get really technical, it should be possible to construct an electronic device that interfaces with the brain and triggers the same neuronal firings in the brain that colours would trigger in a sighted person.

Perhaps, but a person blind from birth is not going to think about colour in the same intuitive way as a sighted person (or someone who lost their sight) - it will be much more of an intellectual process, to the extent that even if we made this device that translates colours into sounds, the blind user is going to have a hard time getting to grips with the fact that the salmon pink blouse goes well with the red shoes, but the shell pink one looks terrible.

I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t know if that’s such a good example. I’m proof that being sighted does not necessarily give you any sort of understanding into what colors go well together.

Not directly relevant to the OP, but worth mentioning – only 2% of all blind people are blind from birth. The vast majority of blind people lose their sight later in life, so all of the questions that are posted here about blind people (color perception, dreams, etc.) generally apply to only a very small subsection of the blind population. Most blind people understand color because at some point in their life they have seen it.

There are ways to describe color without seeing it – website designers can use hex codes or a wide variety of other alphanumerical codes to describe specific colors. I’ve worked with them enough that I don’t need to look to know that FFFFFF is white, and that 003399 is a standard shade of blue. But these codes don’t really have any more meaning than the words “white” and “blue” would. On the other hand, except for matching clothing, a blind person really doesn’t have any need to understand colors. Most get by just by asking other people, and occasionally wearing two different colored socks, like the rest of us.

I don’t know how well that would work if the person has been blind for a long time. With no visual input for a long period of time, the brain will start to use the visual cortex for other things. After a while, stimulating those neurons will create sensations other than vision (like touch or sound).

My last sentence should read, “…stimulating these neurons might create…”

what would be the point of the scanner, though? if you had a piece of construction paper, and the scanner said “aquamarine” or even just “red”, how would the blind-from-birth person interpret that? He/she wouldn’t know what that color was, and even if you tried to describe the “aquamarine” color, for example, and mention the ocean as an example, the blind person wouldn’t know what that was.
However, another interesting question: is there a device that takes speech and interprets it to sign-language, ASL or otherwise? That would be interesting to see…