Meet the accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you

Natasha Caudill feels she and the James Webb Space Telescope kind of see the universe in the "same exact way."
Baba Tamim
Left: JWST. Right: Portrait of Natasha Caudill.
Left: JWST. Right: Portrait of Natasha Caudill.

NASA / Natasha Caudill  

"Women cannot be colorblind." 

Natasha Caudill, 25, a colorblind inclusivity advocate and social media influencer, hears this phrase often in her online interactions. 

A young woman from Chicago, Illinois, she was born with achromatopsia, a rare hereditary eye disorder that has left her completely colorblind and with low visual acuity. 

Growing up in a colorless world, she spent her entire life adapting to her unique circumstances and has now become an advocate for those with similar conditions.

Caudill was adopted from Kyiv, Ukraine, at the age of two and a half and grew up in Alabama and Tennessee before moving to Illinois for college. 

Meet the accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you
Natasha Caudill suffers from achromatopsia, a rare hereditary eye disorder.

After graduating in 2020 with a degree in history and education, she worked for two years at an educational nonprofit before switching to full-time content creation and disability advocacy on TikTok.

"I have been advocating for colorblind people since 2019. That's when I joined TikTok," Caudill told Interesting Engineering (IE)

"I've spent a lot of my life just advocating for colorblind people as the colorblind person," she recalls. 

She takes public transportation for all her travels since she cannot drive, and she has made a supportive network of friends and family who can assist her when needed.

After finding people were fascinated by her unique perspective on how she sees the world, she began to amass a large following. 

She may have faced online trolling, but the positive experiences of educating others and raising awareness far outweigh the negative ones.

Caudill's story is a powerful reminder of the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit and how social media can be used as a tool for education and advocacy. 

Her experiences have helped to challenge common misconceptions about color blindness and demonstrate the importance of embracing and celebrating differences.

Natasha Caudill, who has over a million followers on social media, spoke with IE about her life experiences, social media interactions, advocacy, and being a part of NASA's unveiling of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and flow.

Interesting Engineering: How did you become a social media influencer advocating for the inclusivity of colorblind people?

In 2019, I downloaded TikTok because I just kept seeing all these funny videos online, and I wanted to watch them too. I never even planned to post anything. Every time I meet people in real life, and I tell them like, 'Oh, I'm colorblind', it's always something they find really interesting. And so I thought if I made videos about that, people on the internet might also find it interesting. And it's really just blown up. I never thought I would have, you know, so many followers and have so many opportunities from all of this. So, in general, my interaction with social media has been really fantastic. I mean, it's great because I just get to share my life, and I get to educate [others] about this really weird eye disorder that a lot of people don't know about.

But I think informally, I've spent a lot of my life just advocating for colorblind people as the colorblind person. Because if I see an accessibility issue, I want to be able to call it out. And I want to make that accessible not only for myself but for people in the future.

The online response has just been incredible. A lot of my advocacy lies within, you know, beauty and fashion and makeup and the art add to it. And it's really great because I think these are all things that people relate to; they're all things that people are really interested in. And I'm just sort of adding more context to those things. And I'm showing people; this is how we can make this accessible for everyone because a lot of the things we can put in place to help me as a colorblind person, they're just gonna help everyone. 

So, the response has been overly positive. It's really great. I think people really want to learn, and I've also gotten to work with brands and organizations who also really want to be a part of such a movement.

IE: What are misconceptions about color blindness, and how challenging has it been to debunk myths around it?

Meet the accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you

Raising awareness about colorblindness has been an eye-opening experience for me. There is a common misconception that only men can be colorblind, when in fact, it is rare but not impossible for women to be colorblind. Additionally, many people are unaware that there are different types and levels of colorblindness. The most common form is a red-green color deficiency.

My experience online talking about colorblindness has been a great educational opportunity. I've had the chance to talk to many people who are interested in learning more about it, and it's been fascinating to see how color affects everyone's lives. It's been especially rewarding to debunk myths about colorblindness and blindness in general.

However, I have also encountered negativity, particularly from people who question my authenticity as a woman talking about colorblindness. They assume I am lying or seeking attention, but these comments no longer bother me as much as they used to. I understand that a lot of these comments come from a place of ignorance and lack of education, and I see it as an opportunity to educate and teach others.

The positive feedback I receive far outweighs the negative. I've received messages from parents of children with the same eye disorder thanking me for helping them understand their child and from individuals with disabilities who appreciate my positive attitude. These comments are what keep me motivated and make the negative comments seem insignificant.

IE: How are you fighting for the inclusivity of colorblind people? 

Meet the accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you

Inclusivity has become a focal point of my content, particularly when it comes to educating others about the experiences of blind individuals. As someone who has experienced exclusion, I understand the importance of representation and accessibility. I often focus on topics such as makeup, beauty, and fashion because they are things that I enjoy and find important in my daily life. However, I approach these topics with the goal of showing others that you don't need to see color to enjoy these activities and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to enjoying them.

I would love to see companies and brands take this message to heart and incorporate it into the products and services they create. There is so much that can be done to make products more accessible not only to blind people but to everyone. This includes providing more detailed product descriptions, providing alternative forms of product labeling and packaging, and creating more inclusive marketing campaigns.

IE: How was your experience translating your black-and-white life along with NASA's first images of JWST?

It was quite funny, I was having lunch with a friend one day, and I got a notification on my phone, I looked back up at my friend and I said, "Oh my god, I think I just got an email from NASA." It was in July of last year members of the James Webb Telescope team had reached out to me because they wanted to explore the similarities between my own black-and-white vision and the way that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) processes images.

When space telescopes take pictures of space, they are in black and white; it was up to the James Webb Telescope scientists to colorize these images in ways that accurately represented them and that the general public would be able to understand and appreciate. So, we did an Instagram Live event called "Translating a Black and White Universe," and my role in this event was to showcase how I translate my own black-and-white life, just like the scientists were translating these black-and-white images for everyone else.

I really appreciated working with the NASA team as they put accessibility at the forefront of these images. They added alternative text to the images so that users could read a detailed description of the colors, which was really incredible. This was particularly important for me as someone who is colorblind and typically can't understand the colors in images. This experience reinforced my advocacy for making the world more accessible for not only to colorblind people but to blind people in general.

I find it amusing that the JWST and I view the universe in the same way - in black and white. The similarity doesn't stop there, though. The scientists behind the telescope, like myself, are also translating this black-and-white universe so that people who can see color can understand it better.

IE: What are your future plans? 

In 2022, I had the opportunity to work with several makeup and clothing brands, where I not only promoted their products but also shared how I use them as someone who is colorblind and visually impaired. I also worked with NASA to promote accessibility within the scientific community and with Discord to unveil new accessibility features on their platform. 

As of now, it's the beginning of the year, and I don't have any specific plans yet, but I hope to continue this work and be able to advocate for brands and organizations. Currently, I am continuing to make videos and share my life. I hope that this opens up more opportunities in the future.

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