New eyewear for the colorblind, called EnChroma, enhances color definition
MISSION, Kan. — Sixteen-year-old Noah Vittengl is just beginning to drive and needs to be able to tell the difference between a red and green light. He has red-green colorblindness, which makes the task a challenge.
“It’s been difficult trying to figure out what light is what and what color is what,” he said on Wednesday.
Then, he put on a pair of special eyeglasses designed to help people with colorblindness. The glasses help correct differences in the eye that make some people colorblind.
“It’s awesome,” Noah said with a big grin. “Everything just seems more vibrant and clear. Before, the colors were kind of like a blur and not necessarily big and bright. Now it’s like, whoa!”
Special Promotion Eyeglasses Improve Daily Lives
Noah and two other men with colorblindness were given a new vision of the world when each were given a free, promotional pair of the special eyeglasses at the Brill Eye Center in Mission, Kansas. Brill has been offering the technology, known as EnChroma, for about six months. It is the only practice in four states to do so.
“This is an innovation that is really making a difference in people’s lives,” said Raymond J. Brill of the eye center. “Whether it’s for safety, like with stoplights, or for aesthetics, like looking at flowers and artwork, or just for everyday life, like looking at food and being able to tell whether the steak is rare or not.”
EnChroma is a company based in Berkeley, California. The glasses were developed in 2010 with funding from the National Institutes of Health. They work by filtering out certain colors so people with colorblindness can see the differences between red and green more clearly. The glasses work for about 4 out of 5 people with red-green color blindness, though they are not a cure. Eyeglasses with EnChroma cost about $269 to $349 and can also be made with regular eyeglass lenses.
Inherited Condition That Mostly Affects Men
Being colorblind is an inherited condition that affects the cones in the eye that take in color. People with colorblindness can still see colors, they just cannot tell the difference between some of them. They often do not realize they have colorblindness for many years.
Colorblindness is far more common among men, affecting about 1 in 12. This is because the gene for colorblindness is on the X chromosome and is recessive. Since women have two X chromosomes, a woman would need two colorblindness genes to end up having colorblindness. A man only needs one. About 1 in 200 women have colorblindness, but those women will pass colorblindness on to their sons. It is estimated there are about 90,000 people with colorblindness in the Kansas City area.
The other two men to receive the EnChroma glasses were Ryan January and Austin Mitchell-Goering. January is a 37-year-old IT professional from Olathe. He was in the third grade when he realized he had colorblindness. He was helping his mother decorate cupcakes for a class treat and his job was to sort the candy bits by color.
“She kept getting more and more frustrated throughout the evening,” January recalled. Soon afterward, they went to the optometrist, or eye doctor.
Mitchell-Goering is a 22-year-old junior at the University of Kansas originally from Baltimore. He found out he had colorblindness in a middle school art class while drawing with crayons.
“I’d always get the blue and purple confused, so I would always have to ask the person next to me,” he said. “I scratched a little mark into the purple one so I wouldn’t use that for the sky anymore.”
EnChrome Changes The Way The World Is Seen
Mitchell-Goering plays on the school's lacrosse team and sometimes has trouble seeing the red boundary lines on the green field.
The EnChroma glasses have changed the way the two men see the world. “I can see differences in the grass,” Mitchell-Goering said. “There’s, like, live grass and dead grass. Now I can differentiate everything.”
After putting on the glasses, January looked around and described a slow change, like someone fiddling with the color setting on a TV. The painted yellow lines in the street, which looked faded before, now popped off the ground.
“The sky is a much more vibrant blue,” he said. “The (blue) building in the background here just keeps getting brighter and brighter. It’s strange. It feels great.”