NUS researchers design free app for early detection of colour blindness

The game's designer Nguyen Linh Chi (left) and Keio-NUS Cute Centre co-director Ellen Do showcasing the app, which requires pre-school children to "catch" butterflies of matching colours by tapping a screen. Those with colour blindness would consiste
The game's designer Nguyen Linh Chi (left) and Keio-NUS Cute Centre co-director Ellen Do showcasing the app, which requires pre-school children to "catch" butterflies of matching colours by tapping a screen. Those with colour blindness would consistently select different butterflies.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

NUS researchers design free game to help detect condition early

Parents will soon be able to tell within minutes if their young children are colour blind, with a simple game available as a free app from next month.

Designed by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers for children between the ages of three and six, the game requires them to "catch" butterflies of matching colours by tapping a screen.

Those who are colour blind would consistently select different butterflies since they are unable to tell the difference between red and green, for instance.

A study on 32 children by the Singapore National Eye Centre this year found that the game, believed to be a world first, was as effective as existing tests in identifying red-green colour blindness, the most common variant.

A 2008 local study of more than 1,200 teenagers here found that 5.3 per cent of boys and just 0.2 per cent of girls were colour blind.

The game makes early detection of the condition in pre-school children possible, and in a fun way, said Dr Ellen Do, co-director of the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (Cute) Centre.

Most would otherwise be too young to take standard colour blindness exams such as the Ishihara test, which requires them to make out numbers hidden in a group of coloured dots.

This is important because children begin learning using colours in kindergarten, said the game's designer Nguyen Linh Chi.

"They may get scolded by teachers and parents if they cannot complete a colouring task, but no one knows they are colour blind," she said. "They may begin to lose self-confidence."

Early detection would also prevent parents from wrongly thinking that their children have a learning disability if they struggle in school, added Dr Do.

Their views were echoed by Professor Saw Seang Mei, an eye disease expert from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"If a child has colour blindness, it's good to know early. It may have an impact - not just on their visual function - but also emotionally and mentally, like how they cope in school."

She added that the new game app would make it more convenient for parents to test their children, rather than wait for a formal screening.

Colour blindness is caused by faulty cones in the eye's retina that help tell colours apart. In rare cases, some may be unable to tell yellow from blue, or discern colour at all. The condition is usually inherited. The game takes just three minutes to check for all types of colour blindness.

Males are more likely to be colour blind as the gene responsible for it is carried on the X chromosome. Women will avoid colour blindness as long as one of their two X chromosomes does not carry the gene.

Catchily titled "DoDo's Catching Adventure", the game will be showcased tomorrow at the ArtScience Museum along with other projects by the Keio-NUS Cute Centre, which conducts research into interactive digital media.

The free app will be available from next month on the Apple App Store. A version for Android may be developed in the future.

davidee@sph.com.sg