Color for the Colorblind?
By Manna Y.
Do these special glasses, which promise to allow the colorblind to see a wider range of colors, really hold up to the test?
Viral videos of colorblind people wearing a special sunglass-like pair of glasses to perceive colors like they had never seen before have circulated the Internet recently. The unforgettable visceral reaction of a person being able to differentiate between the colors in a garden or seeing purple for the first time demonstrated how much most people take the ability to see colors for granted.
The glasses, manufactured and sold by EnChroma, a Californian company, contain lenses with “multi-notch filters” that supposedly allow the eyes to better separate color signals and differentiate between colors. EnChroma glasses, which cost upward of $350, use an effect called “chromatic contrast enhancement” to give a “color boost” by saturating and highlighting colors. Due to the tinted nature of its lens, EnChroma glasses are best suited for outdoor use. The company claims that their glasses may also be worn by people who have normal color vision, without harming the eyes, in order to see super-saturated and vibrant colors.
The man behind the glasses, Don McPherson, accidentally discovered the effect that EnChroma glasses has on the colorblind eye in 2005, after he had initially created the glasses for use by doctors during laser surgery. McPherson was wearing the glasses while playing Frisbee with a colorblind friend, who asked to borrow them. His friend immediately noticed the difference, exclaiming “I can see the [traffic] cones,” which were orange—a color that he had never seen as vibrantly and clearly before. Since the discovery, McPherson has been working to provide the glasses for people with color vision deficiencies.
Most have been touched by the powerful success stories of EnChroma users; however, some have voiced their doubts about the validity of this breakthrough aid for colorblindness. Among these detractors is Dr. Mark Former, a New York ophthalmologist, who doubts that EnChroma glasses are likely to change the eye’s perception of colors. In a recent interview with ABC’s “Nightline,” Dr. Former explained, “If I have a black and white TV and I put on special color glasses, I am not going to see color TV.”
McPherson, defended his product, expressing that his glasses are not a “cure” for colorblindness but rather an aid that enhances color discrimination. The company claims that the glasses are effective for approximately “80% of cases of colorblindness.” EnChroma’s official website offers a free online diagnostics test to determine the likelihood of success that colorblind people would have if they were to wear the glasses. McPherson recently told ABC’s “Nightline,” “We are selling these [glasses] very quickly. As soon as we order 500, 1,000 pairs, they are sold.” McPherson and his team at EnChroma are currently developing EnChroma glasses for indoor use and pediatrics.
Color vision deficiency affects approximately one in 12 men and one in 200 women. The most common form of colorblindness is red-green colorblindness, in which the red and green cones (photopigments) in the eye overlap too much, making red and green appear as the same color or appear as gray or black.