Supporting people with colour vision deficiency in rugby
People with colour blindness are involved in every aspect of rugby. In addition to fans and other participants at live events, clubs and governing bodies should also consider how their policies in relation to disabilities and human rights, safeguarding and player development and education account for those with colour blindness, whether as employees or external stakeholders.
Rugby for all sets out World Rugby’s guidance and vision of rugby as a sport for everyone and refers to the relevant sections of the World Rugby Playing Charter, Bye Laws and Regulations which collectively regulate and advise everyone working within rugby on how they can be more inclusive.
The social model of disability says that disability is created by physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological and attitudinal barriers. The social model identifies solutions to remove or reduce these barriers within society, rather than trying to fix an individual’s impairment or health condition. The social model is the preferred model for disabled people as it empowers disabled people and encourages society as a whole to be more inclusive.
For the purposes of disability legislation, it is widely accepted that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, affecting one or more of several categories, including ‘speech, hearing or eyesight’.
It is important to remember that colour blind people face hidden barriers and can be considered to have a disability.
In different regions and countries disability/discrimination legislation varies but World Rugby believe that colour blindness should be treated as a disability and the necessary adaptations should be made as far as reasonably possible.
"World Rugby in partnership with its regions and unions have a vital role to play in ensuring that the sport remains open, safe from discrimination and attractive to all, be they players, fans or others involved from community to elite level."
This statement is also compatible with World Rugby’s aims to work with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, of which Goal 10 Reduced inequalities is directly applicable to meeting the needs of people with colour blindness.
"Implicit in our values and approach to player welfare to protect players of all shapes and sizes, inclusion is and must remain a natural part of what we do, not just to grow the game but to preserve the values of rugby. World Rugby believes that everyone should have the opportunity to play the game or be a part of rugby regardless of their national, racial or ethnic origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, language religion, politics or any other reason."
Most colour blind people do not consider themselves to have a disability, even though they may experience many situations where they are excluded by their condition and it is important to respect their views.
Employees and external stakeholders
Colour blind people can be employed at all levels of rugby and in all roles, therefore considering how information is presented and addressing challenging situations in advance is very important to avoid misunderstandings. Organisations should review standard procedures to check for potential issues which might already be affecting a number of employees, such as how information is presented in colour-coded spreadsheets and within standard presentation formats and how brand guidelines might affect the interpretation of information and the appearance of content within educational, training and other resources and documentation.
Consider providing training in CVD to relevant departments, especially marketing and communications, IT, HR, Finance and Operations.
A ‘suggestions box’ for people with colour blindness to anonymously identify where existing information or processes are not accessible can be a good way to uncover examples of inadvertent discrimination within your organisation, as can setting up a focus group of colour blind employees.
Managers/coaches/officials: Management, coaching staff and other officials with colour vision deficiency can have difficulties with statistical, match strategy or other information. For example, tactical training and post-match analysis using white boards/coloured markers or colour-coded team statistics/tables.
Colour blind match officials can also be affected by training issues similar to those experienced by colour blind players as Dave Pearson explains here.
Fans and supporters
Organisations should also review policies and procedures to ensure external stakeholders, particularly at venues, are able to fully access information and facilities (refer to Venues).
"I took my son to a sold-out Twickenham to see a big game on a sunny day. He was 12 at the time. In the first half a player was shown a card. Both the red and yellow cards are the same shape. I had to ask him what colour it was! It was a game changing red! The stadium signs showed no sign of any thought going into the fact that one in 12 of the men in the crowd and one in 200 of the women present would struggle to see crucial things like emergency exits and map details."
Everyone should be able to play and train as part of a team without being at a disadvantage and without having to worry about being unsafe or potential discrimination, inadvertent or otherwise.
Rugby Ready states at the outset: Everybody involved in organising and playing rugby has a duty of care in relation to players.
Most colour blind people will not want to draw attention to their condition. Embarrassment can be avoided by considering potential barriers in advance and taking steps to address them before they become a problem – for example, not using red or orange training cones on grass.
How to support colour blind players
Firstly, if you suspect a player might be colour blind, speak to the person concerned in confidence. Be aware that colour vision deficiency is a visual impairment and therefore a health condition and act in accordance with your own relevant policies for health conditions. Remember that many people with colour blindness are unaware of their condition and may resist an implication that they might be colour blind. In this case refer them to their optometrist and to the Colour Blind Awareness website for more information.
Surprisingly, it is quite common for parents to resist a suggestion that their child might be colour blind and may not be willing to take their child for a colour vision test. You have an obligation to act in the best interest of the child but not against the wishes of parents, so if you suspect CVD in a child but parents refuse to co-operate, you should treat the child as though they have CVD and offer discreet support.
It is important at the outset that parents and players are reassured that being colour blind won’t affect how they/their child is treated in rugby and colour blindness will not be a barrier to development or their chances as a player.
In rugby there are many colour blind people, some quoted in this document, who have been able to reach positions as players and match officials right at the top of the game, long before this guidance was available, who are fantastic role models for younger people and concerned parents.
Safety: If a player is colour blind but undiagnosed/unsupported they may play in games and train in situations where they are unsure which players are their teammates. This can place the colour blind player at risk of causing injury, both to themselves and to others. As Chris Paterson explained here and below, a colour blind player may run for a line-break only to realise too late they have run straight at the opposition players and get injured as a result.
"I remember a couple of times making a line-break on a counterattack, running into what I thought was space between two of my own men and just getting totally smashed."
A player with colour blindness is not obliged to disclose their condition unless a specific question is asked as part of a recruitment or registration process. Clubs should aim to create a policy which encourages people with colour blindness to come forward, in confidence if necessary, and which recommends players have a colour vision test with an optometrist so that proper support can be provided to ensure they can perform to their best.
Where you are responsible for the academic education of players, be aware that colour blindness can have an impact upon access to educational resources and can affect attainment. For further information refer to the Colour Blind Awareness website.
All players: It is important to create an empathetic environment where players and staff can communicate openly by:
- attempting to anticipate and address potential issues before they become a problem
- listening to and promptly addressing concerns
- making adjustments to ensure full inclusion
- creating a balanced atmosphere for the benefit of all players/staff by also reflecting the needs of people with normal colour vision. For example, in ‘classroom’ training you can use full colour to help those with normal colour but also label information to assist people with colour blindness.
See the comments of Mike Blair and Chris Paterson on challenges faced in classroom training sessions here.
- Explain your policy on colour blindness on your website, including information on how your club will support players with CVD.
- Players must be able to trust that their condition will be treated confidentially. Colour blindness is a medical condition which many affected people do not wish to disclose. Players need to know that any concerns, such as problems with equipment or kits, will be addressed without drawing attention to them personally.
- Anticipating the needs of colour blind players by ensuring accessible kits/training facilities and equipment can avoid risk of injury and avoid placing players in embarrassing situations.
- Do not wait for people with colour blindness to identify themselves. Players of all levels and abilities are unlikely to admit to their condition until they have confidence that they will be supported and managed sensitively, so take steps to identify and address potential barriers before they become an issue.
When reviewing your accessibility practices try to reach a balance between the different needs of those involved.