Life in Color: EnChroma Glasses Offer Correction For Color Blindness
The word serendipity refers to a luck that takes the form of valuable things not sought for. It's happenstance like this that resulted in the creation of EnChroma glasses. Originally created as protective eyewear for doctors performing laser eye surgery, it was through a serendipitous event that the creator, Don McPherson, discovered the true purpose of his technology.
Today we'll look at the story and science behind this incredible eyewear, followed by information on how you can purchase your own if you are someone who experiences red-green color blindness, which is one of the most common color vision deficiencies.
What is Color Blindness? How Do I Know if I'm Affected?
As many as 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry have a common form of red-green color blindness, according to the National Eye Institute. Most of us have similar perceptions of color, but those affected with these types of conditions are unable to differentiate between certain hues.
Color blindness can be inherited genetically through defects in the photopigments of the eye. These are referred to as “cone cells" which respond to blue, green, and red light and any combination of the three.
Red-green color blindness is the most common, followed by blue-yellow, and finally total lack of color vision, which is extremely rare. This condition can also be caused by damage to the eye, be it physical or contact with chemicals.
Eye care professionals have various ways to test for diagnosing color blindness. The most common example is the Ishihara Color Test, which looks for red-green color blindness. During this test, patients look at Ishihara plates which contain dots in different colors and sizes.
These dots form shapes that are easily visible to those with normal color vision. They become difficult to see or even invisible entirely to those who have red-green color blindness. Other tests include the following:
The Cambridge Color Test
The HRR Pseudoisochromatic Color Test
The Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test
The Farnsworth Lantern Test (Used by the U.S. Military)
If you are concerned that you may suffer from a form of color vision deficiency, schedule an appoint with your eye doctor. While there is no cure for color blindness, EnChroma glasses offer a stylish and simple solution for those with red-green color vision issues.
How EnChroma is Fixing Color Blindness
In 2009, just as McPherson was entering the field of color blindness, gene therapy research found that the brains of those with color vision deficiencies were able to process all of the colors in the visible spectrum just fine. The problem is that their eyes weren't sending the proper signals.
This suggested that the eye could be aided with some sort of technology that would help it process the signals properly. McPherson's business partner, Andrew Schmeder, developer incredibly detailed computer models that they used to better understand the different types of color blindness.
“The neural mechanisms in your brain are perfectly OK," McPherson says, “They're just waiting for the right signal. Because of that, if you can give the right signal, you can restore a person who is color deficient to the correct perception of color."
EnChroma glasses are currently designed to aid those with red-green color blindness or a “deuteranomaly" as it is scientifically known. This condition occurs when the red and green cone cells of the eye have overlapped.
As a result, both the red and green cones are sensitive to different wavelengths, while also being sensitive to the same ones. That's why people with this condition will see purple instead of blue for example. This is due to the eye not getting a “pure red signal" or a “pure green signal."
The lenses of EnChroma glasses block the cluster of wavelengths detected by the overlapping cones. This creates a broader separation of red and blue pigmentation which allows the brain to receive clean signals from the red and green centers of the eye. Overall, this enables the brain to provide a more accurate look at the colors you see.
EnChroma Glasses: Past, Present, and Future
The EnChroma story begins in 2005 when Don McPherson was playing ultimate Frisbee in Santa Cruz with his friend, Michael Angell. Michael asked to borrow Don's sunglasses and he was shocked by what he saw when he put them on.
“I can see the cones," he said. There were some traffic cones nearby that Angell could see, despite the fact that he had been color blind his entire life. McPherson had created the sunglasses as part of his business which was focused on providing eyewear for doctors to use during laser protection surgery.
The glasses were engineered with a rare earth iron that absorbs a large amount of light. This protects the surgeons and allows them to more easily differentiate between the colors of blood and tissue during procedures.
People started wearing them outside the doctor's office, even McPherson himself used them. “Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated. It makes the world look really bright." When Michael borrowed his glasses at that fateful Frisbee game, McPherson realized he could use them to help people who were colorblind.
McPherson went to work researching color blindness and applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to start clinical trials in 2005. He partnered with a mathematician and computer scientist named Andrew Schmeder.
Together they partnered with Tony Dykes, a business development director at a technology start-up who had also worked as a lawyer in Silicon Valley. Together they founded EnChroma. The glasses originally went on sale for $700 a pair in 2012.
Mr. Dykes looked back on the initial sales, saying: “It was not a very popular product." The original approach focused on the science of the glasses, but Mr. Dykes remarks, “That doesn't work for something like color blindness, which is a really experiential thing."
These initial issues were compounded by the inability for opticians to carve prescriptions into the EnChroma lenses. The founding members of the company sought to bring down the costs while also tweaking the lenses to support prescriptions.
The glasses were rereleased in December of 2012 at prices ranging from $330 to $430. There is a competitor, 2AI Labs who makes the 02Amp sunglasses using a different technology that sells for $277 to $447. These are focused more on surgeons, though, and not the general public.
Serendipity struck yet again when a paint company offered to finance an ad campaign with EnChroma that focused on introducing color to those who were color blind. The campaign had people looking at things like sunsets, artwork, and paint samples with the glasses on.
This campaign brought in the sales the company needed, and it also started a trend that added the human element the EnChroma brand needed.
The True Purpose: Enriching the Lives of the Young and Old
After the ad campaigns with the paint company, people started posting their own reactions and impressions of EnChroma glasses. This led to inserts being placed into boxes that encouraged customers to post their own videos.
These videos are where the power of the glasses truly shines:
In this first video, Bob Balcom, a 60-year-old retired teacher in Chatham, N.Y., uploaded a video shot by his wife of his first time using the glasses. It's an incredibly emotional moment for him as evidenced in the video.
He looks up at the sky and says: “The blue sky is deeper than I've ever seen. It reminds me of Colorado. And the pine trees, they're just so green." You can hear his voice cracking as he starts to get emotional. Tears run down his cheeks and into his beard as he experiences these colors for the first time.
McPherson believes that the most the biggest use of this technology is in pediatrics. He mentioned a double-blind study in which teachers were asked to work in classrooms with children who had both normal color vision and those who were vision deficient.
The kids who mixed up colors were indeed treated differently according to the study's results.
“They were treated like they were a little slow," McPherson said, “It's not unusual for these color-deficient kids, because of their poor test scores, because they can't follow what's going on, that they get put into special ed programs. Does that make your blood boil? It makes my blood boil. We've got to fix that."
McPherson wants to get the product into the hands of young kids because it is during these early years that the brain formulates most of its neural connections.
“You have to understand that 80 percent of information is visual in a classroom, and a majority of that is color-coded. And we hear this from people repeatedly: they can't see the difference, or assignment are put out on brightly colored paper with different colored inks and they can't read it."
Despite detractors, the company is very transparent about the fact that EnChroma can't help with all types of color vision issues. The company offers a no-hassle 60-day money back guarantee for those who aren't aided by the glasses.
There is also a color blindness test you can take on the website to help you make a purchasing decision.
Color Blindness is something that many people suffer with. For some, it's nothing more than an inconvenience, but for others, especially children, it can be detrimental to their future. If you are someone who has red-green color defincienies, check out the EnChroma website for all the models and style options.