Colour for the Colour Blind: EnChroma Releases Life-Changing Eyewear
When you think of someone with colour blindness, you may think they see the world like this:
While you, if you have normal vision, see something more like this:
In reality, though, the majority of people with colour blindness see an image that is somewhere in between:
As you can see, the colours aren’t completely non-existent, but dulled instead. It’s more difficult to differentiate between the individual colours, and the scene is not as vibrant.
Colour Vision Deficiency
You might be surprised about how many people are affected by the condition: approximately 8% of men and 0.5% of women have a colour vision deficiency! There are many different types, however. One of those is red-green colour blindness, discussed below.
A person who is red-green colour blind sees the world differently because their red and green photopigments have more spectral overlap than normal. Spectral overlap is related to how the photopigments absorb light.
Normal Vision Red-Green Colour Blind
Normally, there are three distinct classes of cone cells: one class absorbs mainly red light (called the L-cones), another absorbs mainly green light (the M-cones), and another absorbs blue light (S-cones). But, in a person with red-green colour blindness, one of those is irregular. For example, the L-cone absorbs too much of the green light (a condition called a protan deficiency), or the M-cone absorbs too much of the red light (deutan deficiency).
This is kind of like how two radio stations might bleed together. It makes a mess of conflicting information, and the more the L-cone and M-cone signals overlap, the greater the confusion or extent of colour vision deficiency. But is the problem fixable? Well, there is hope: the eye is fundamentally healthy, the neural wiring for processing colour is intact and correct, and for the vast majority of cases (greater than 80% of red-green colour blindness), the amount of overlap is less than 100%. (If there is 100% overlap, then there is no way to provide differential filtering). The problem is in how the light is received, which is where the EnChroma lens comes into play.
How EnChroma Helps
The general class of filters that EnChroma designs is called multi-notch filters. To make a lens that helps with red-green colour blindness, the notch filtering occurs primarily in the spectral region corresponding to the maximum overlap between the red and green photopigments. This drives a kind of wedge between the L-cone and M-cone signals, thus improving the separation of their signals and providing better colour vision to the observer. The glasses come in a variety of styles and are priced from $350-700.
These glasses are seriously miraculous. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for these people to suddenly be able to see the sunset in all its glory, or, like the man in the video below, to be able see the colour of their children’s eyes for the first time. It’s almost too much to handle (but also somehow addictive to witness their utter disbelief and unbridled happiness…awww)!
Watching these videos reminds me of when videos of people experiencing cochlear implants for the first time became viral a while back. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is designed to provide hearing to those who are severely hard of hearing or deaf. Part of the device is surgically implanted into the inner ear, while the other part is worn externally, above the ear. Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants actually do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.
They look like this:
But when activated for babies who haven’t been able to hear before, they look like this:
All the tears.
It’s really amazing to think of how our technology has gotten to the point of actually curing colour blindness and deafness, things we’ve had to deal with since, well, forever. What’s even more amazing is imagining where our technology will go in the future. What other illnesses or disabilities will we see an end to in our lifetime? Only time will tell.
If you’d like more information about EnChroma, check out their website here.
Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor
Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.