It's not that I can't see any colors—I had actually lived most of my life without being a bit aware of my condition—but when I'm presented with one of those tests where a jumble of different colored dots supposedly spell out a specific number, I'm usually stumped. According to one such test, I likely have "mild deuteranomaly"—a form of color blindness that mostly interferes with my ability to detect various shades of red and green, and impacts around 6% of the male population. If you click this page and scroll down to the side-by-side picture of a photo and how it would look to somebody with "deuteranopic vision," they look almost indistinguishable to me.
So when I stumbled upon EnChroma, a brand of glasses that purports to correct for some forms of mild colorblindness, I was interested in seeing what I'd been missing. Had I been experiencing a pale reflection of the real world? My curiosity was especially piqued when I saw the various videos EnChroma posted online, showing the moment when color blind individuals put on these glasses for the first time. Their reactions range from excitement to tearful joy. Many feature folks crying after seeing the "real" color of leaves or a loved one's eyes for the first time (just check out the video below). Never mind the Matrix-y philosophical argument that "color" is less a physical fact than a construct created in our brains. I wanted that.
Colorblind dad experiences true color for the first time with EnChroma glasses
*UPDATE* follow up video https://youtu.be/LiLHy0b9s5Y
"In the simplest explanation, EnChroma’s glasses work by reestablishing the correct balance between signals from the three photopigments in the eye of the color deficient," Donald McPherson, Ph.D., a glass scientist who serves as EnChroma's cofounder and vice president of products, explains to me.
"The eyewear does this by removing small slices of light from the visible spectra. At the cortical level, the neural machinery is intact and perfectly functioning in the color blind, so once the correct ratios entering the eye are reestablished, the neural mechanisms excite and the correct color can be seen and perceived."
In other words: Us color blind folks have an imbalance in the way we perceive light signals, so (as one example) some of us don't get as much green or red as the average person. These glasses selectively filter light in a way that the company claims corrects for this.
To make things more interesting, I recruited the help of my brother, who shares my color blindness. We thought it'd be particularly interesting to compare our experiences.
As soon as I tried on the glasses (there are indoor versions designed for looking at computer screens, as well as outdoors-oriented sunglass varieties), most objects looked like slightly more vibrant versions of themselves. It was only when I glanced at a familiar brick wall by my house that I became aware that things may be very different. This brick wall had always appeared brown to me. Now, it was a bright red.
"What color are those bricks?" I asked a friend.
"Red," they replied.
Cue record scratch.
This same experience repeated itself again and again. "What color is that?" I'd ask of things that I formerly knew to be brown. And the answer again and again: "Red", "Red," "Red."
"They seemed to spread out the red, brown, green color range; moving them from a lot of muddy mess to a number of distinct colors," says my brother, Eric. "It was pretty subtle for the most part—especially for the indoor lenses. I saw a bigger difference with the sunglasses."
It should be stated that the EnChroma glasses do not "cure" color blindness. As vibrant as leaves and bricks now appear, when presented with a color blindness test, both my brother and I still fail it. And there's another major issue that needs to be addressed: These things ain't cheap. Non-prescription versions of EnChroma's color blindness glasses range from roughly $340 to $440. And having lived my entire life barely aware that I even had color blindness, it's hard to make the argument that my life is all that different now that I can suddenly see new hues of red and green. In other words: These are a luxury item.
But they are a luxury item that some folks will love. The videos of tearful users who suddenly see the world in a whole new way are undeniably powerful (I could seriously watch them all day). And if you're color blind and crave nothing more than to see your child's hair or eyes as others supposedly do, these glasses may be an indulgence worth exploring.
I'm a New York-based writer and entrepreneur. I appear on a few shows on the Travel, Science, History, Discovery, and Nat Geo channels. I also write for numerous publications, including Forbes. As a writer, I'm interested in the intersection between technology, human experience, design, and culture. For more fun, you can follow me on Twitter: @sethporges, subscribe to me on Facebook.
Brian Sees Color! WAIT FOR IT!
Brian gets a surprise gift of Enchroma sunglasses that lets him see colors for the first time!