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Hazard maps to get redesign for color blind

TOKYO >> A government task force focused on earthquake research plans to redesign its hazard maps to make it easier for those with color blindness to identify risks.

The maps use various colors to indicate the extent to which areas across the nation are susceptible to quakes, said Masahiro Nakade of the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion.

Redesigned maps will utilize nine colors to signify degree of danger, from the most urgent (red violet) to the safest (light gray).

Under the current design, a shade of green, for example, indicates areas that have a 3% probability of being hit by tremors. The new design would discontinue the use of green, since people with color blindness often have difficulty distinguishing between red and green, Nakade said.

A similar revamp has already been completed by the Japan Meteorological Agency, which likewise avoids using green and includes red violet to depict highest level of urgency.

In Japan, color blindness affects more than 3 million people — about 1 in 20 men and 1 in 500 women.

Koichi Iga of the nonprofit Color Universal Design Organization (CUDO) said he welcomes the move.

“The biggest purpose of using different colors to indicate disaster-related risks, I think, is to allow for the public’s fastest, easiest grasp of danger on the way. But if shown in problematic colors, such a method of communication could backfire,” he said.

In April 2016, when a powerful quake struck Kumamoto Prefecture, CUDO released a statement pointing out inconsistent use of colors among various TV stations in their portrayal of seismic intensity. This, coupled with their failure to use “barrier-free colors,” made it challenging for people who are color blind to get accurate information.

Nakade said the redesign goes beyond catering to the color blind; it also encourages consistency.

Now, earthquake maps will be consistent with the weather agency’s maps, and “I hope the media will follow suit, too,” Iga said.

In Japan, there has been a long history of discrimination against people with color blindness, especially with regard to marriage, employment and education.

Elementary schools were previously obligated to test students for color vision under a 1958 law. But the government banned blanket testing in 2003 amid concerns that failing to pass could lead to bullying and discrimination.

Since then, the Japan Ophthalmological Society called for the resumption of testing to facilitate early detection. In 2016, elementary schools reinstated the test, with two requirements: parental consent and a private setting for testing, to ensure confidentiality.

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