“Albino” comes from a Latin word that means “white.” Most people’s skin contains melanin, a pigment that gives skin its color. Dark skin has more melanin than light skin. Some individuals are born with a total absence of melanin, which results in little or no skin color. The general term for this condition is “albinism,” and people who have abnormally white or light skin are called “albino.”
Besides unusually fair complexions, albino people have snowy white or platinum blonde hair. It is a myth, however, that albinos always have red or pink eyes. The truth is, pale blue is the most common eye color of people with albinism.
This condition is found in people of all races and ethnic groups around the world. Albinism has been in the public record since Pliny (AD 23-79) wrote about seeing albinos on the west coast of Africa. In Africa, big challenges for albino people include vulnerability to the sun due to patches of missing skin pigment, as well as superstitious beliefs associated with albinism.
Albinism is not a disease but is a rare genetic disorder present from birth. The majority of albino children are born to parents who have normal skin, hair and eye color. Albinism only manifests itself when both mother and father are carriers of the recessive albinism gene.
Albinism is considered a disability because of the health challenges associated with the condition. A lack of melanin in the eyes results in photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light), along with moderate to severe visual impairment. Many albino people are considered legally blind because of their uncorrectable poor vision.
Albino children and adults are often teased and harassed by inconsiderate people. Some albinism activists prefer to call themselves “persons with albinism” and thus avoid the term “albino” altogether because ignorant people use the word in an insulting way.
The overwhelmingly negative depictions of albinos in movies (e.g. The Da Vinci Code, End of Days, The Matrix Reloaded, Lethal Weapon, The Princess Bride, etc.) tend to hurt real albinos by reinforcing the derogatory stigma and making them look like social misfits or evil villains.
It would be nice if movie makers were more accurate in their portrayal of albinos while showing the same sensitivity and respect for people with albinism that they have demonstrated toward others with disabilities. Fashion photographer Rick Guidotti’s Positive Exposure project focuses on the beauty of people with albinism.
Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrence is a coming-of-age story about an outcast albino boy in post-WWII America who runs off to join the circus, where he learns a lot about himself and his skills. When he returns home, he has the courage to face up to his detractors.
10 Famous Albino People
- Connie Chiu – Hong Kong fashion model and jazz musician known for being the world’s first fashion model with albinism.
- Shaun Ross – African-American model, recording artist, and actor known for his work in the fashion world as the first professional male model with albinism.
- Ruby Vizcarra – This Mexican model says “I’ve learned to see my albinism as something beautiful” and she is empowering other albinos to love being different.
- Refilwe Modiselle – The first albino model to appear on a runway in South Africa.
- Nastya Zhidkova – Russian model who rose to fame under the professional alias Kiker Chan, known for her ethereal and delicate editorial work.
- Jewell Jeffrey – African-American model, Disc Jockey, and actor.
- Winston Foster – Better known by the stage name Yellowman, he is a Jamaican reggae and dancehall deejay, also known as King Yellowman.
- Hermeto Pascoal – Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist known for his ability to conjure beautiful sounds out of just about anything from tea kettles to PVC pipes to traditional woodwinds.
- Ali Newman – American rapper and hip hop artist, better known as “Brother Ali.”
- Dennis Hurley – American comedian, actor, and producer known for Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling (2016), Superstore (2015), The Albino Code (2006), and a stage production of “Diamond in the Rough,” the award-winning story of a teenager with albinism (2003).
Growing up with Albinism
Children and teens with albinism face a number of challenges. Summer can be a hard time for people with albinism. Albinos do not have the ability to tan so their skin sunburns easily, and they need to protect their eyes from the bright sunlight. To avoid sun damage, they must not only use sunscreen with a high SPF rating, they must wear UV-resistant clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, wide-brimmed hats and dark sunglasses.
School can be difficult for people with any type of disability, including albinism. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, students with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying and harassment than their peers without disabilities. Peer support groups can help children and adults with albinism. These groups can help the individual to feel less isolated.
The visual impairment of children with albinism means that their needs aren’t accommodated in the classroom. They may face challenges in accessing the curriculum and participating in extracurricular activities. It’s important to consider seating, lighting and optical aids for students with albinism. They may have to sit closer to the front of the class and use handheld magnifiers or special lighting for reading or writing.
Most students with albinism can participate in general education programs with appropriate support services. However, sometimes the least restrictive environment for an albino student may be a half-day resource room with other visually impaired students, or a special class for students with visual impairments.
Homeschooling with Albinism
Homeschooling is a good option for children with albinism, since it allows them to stay indoors and out of the sun. According to Power Homeschool, homeschooling can be the perfect solution to many of the problems that albino students might face at a traditional public or private school. Here are five ways that homeschooling can help children with albinism succeed in their schooling:
- Homeschooling allows for individualized instruction.
- Homeschooling provides a safe and comfortable learning environment.
- Homeschooling allows for flexibility in scheduling.
- Homeschooling allows for more time to focus on areas of difficulty.
- Homeschooling allows for more time to pursue interests.
Students with albinism should begin to learn keyboarding skills using typing readiness computer games as early as kindergarten; they should begin direct instruction in typing or keyboarding as early as the third grade. Computers with large screen monitors and software for large character display may help older students with writing projects.
Encouragement is key to make learning easier for a child with albinism. Homeschool parents may be able to tap into the special education services offered to eligible students with disabilities, which the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide. The National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) also offers many resources at Albinism.org.