Seeing a new world–with color

About two weeks ago I read an article on the New York Times website by David Pogue, the technology guy. He, like me, is colorblind and he described a new product, funded by the National Institute of Health, that created glasses for colorblind people. The company, Enchroma (http://enchroma.com), makes sunglasses that have to be used outside in bright sunlight to work. But they advertised that it helps colorblind people see colors that they had not before. I was really amazed to hear about the glasses and that Pogue said that they actually worked. He said poignantly that he actually felt some emotion when he saw a rainbow for the first time and saw all the colors.

Now the glasses are really expensive. I caught them on sale (about 15 mins before it ended) and they were still about $450! I know, crazy. But they do have a 30 day guarantee where you can return them if they are still in new condition. So it seemed to me like something to try. I mean, why not right? I will describe here what the experience has been like and it has been both wildly amazing and really hard to handle. Let me explain…

First, the sunglasses arrived yesterday while we were eating dinner. I immediately left the table and walked outside with them, only mumbling my purpose to everyone else. I walked first to the strawberry patch, expecting to see bright red berries glowing there. Actually, you all know this (if you are normal color visioned) but the berries sort of hide underneath leaves. They did look brighter than usual and stood out a bit more, but I did know that strawberries are red before. I went wandering around the neighborhood looking at people’s flowers and again found that the colors were more obvious, brighter, as long as they were in direct sun. The minute they were in shadow, back to colorblind. I thought, “Well, sort of cool” and went back in to eat my now-cold-soup. The most striking of all was my daughter Asia’s dress. It is bright purple with a bright green pattern on it. Now I didn’t know the pattern was green until last night but it was quite cool to see purplish-pink right next to green. Never seen that before.

Today I actually read the insert. They told me that I should put the glasses on and keep them on for a long time while outside in sunlight. And they said not to keep peeping over the top of the glasses to compare the normal with the sunglasses. So I decided to give it a try. I had to pick up Eden from school and decided to wear the glasses, ignoring the many warnings that the glasses could make “colors distracting” and to use caution while driving. It seemed like one of those silly warnings like “don’t touch a hot iron” or something.

So off I go in the car, noticing only at first the brighter colors–especially of green. When I came to my first STOP sign, I was stunned. Who made red so red? How could one ever think that stop signs blend in with trees. Actually, there is a story there. In brief, I failed my first driving test when I didn’t see the STOP sign because there was a tree behind it. I have gotten better, don’t worry. Anyway, most of the way to the school I just kept saying outloud “Red!” to myself. Red cars, red flowers, red signs. Who knew there was so much red in the world? Well, all of you reading this for one. The few of you that are colorblind will know what I mean. Well, actually you won’t because you still don’t SEE, if you know what I mean. It gets confusing.

I picked up Eden from school and she was carrying this bright red shirt. Now I know what red is and can pick it out, but I have never really seen red like that before. Now that I had an audience, I kept saying to Eden “Look, a red sign! Look at the red car! Look at those flowers, they are pink!” She had a rough day at school and seemed quite unimpressed. But now I got the warning, I had to be careful to keep my eyes on the traffic because the world was suddenly turned up, like when you supersaturate on Photoshop. I decided to stop at the neighbor’s house to look at their raspberry bushes. There’s a story there too: when I was young one of our chores was to pick raspberries. I had the toughest time doing it and would often hear my sister complain “I hate picking with Matt, he doesn’t even look for them and I have to pick them all over again.” At the time I did not know I was colorblind and was amazed to see how other people could pick baskets of berries when I could only find 5 berries in 30 minutes. Anyway, sadly enough the berries were all gone or dried up so I didn’t get to have that victory.

When I got home I decided to try looking at photos to see if the colors in a photo album would be different if I looked at them with the Enchroma glasses on and in full sunlight. So I picked up the photo book I had made of our recent time in India. The minute I saw the front cover, I knew I was in for something. The picture was a family photo of us after the Holi celebration and we were covered in colored paint. It was stunning. As I looked through the book, I was just floored at all that I was missing. Eden was sitting there with me and I kept doing the same thing as in the car–Look, it’s red! Seeing colors made everything seem more separate. Large group photos looked different because everyone was wearing different colors and it made them stand out as separate people. One picture of the girls sitting on a painted elephant looked so much better with all the colors and I had a hard time believing that I had really missed so much. And that is the down side. And it is kind of a big downside. For Pogue, he was emotionally moved by seeing a full rainbow (I haven’t seen that yet) and that is one part of it–to see the vibrancy and separateness of colors after a lifetime of being colorblind is revelatory.

But to take the glasses off and know that you have missed that much your whole life is really painful. I felt like crying and only didn’t because I don’t really like doing that. But to have missed so much in my life! I would always tell people, “I don’t know what I am missing so it doesn’t bother me.” And now I cannot say that anymore.

2 Responses to Seeing a new world–with color

  1. Hey Matt. This is Jordan Harmon, Theron’s youngest brother, and I’m also colorblind. I loved the article and I’ve found the Cx-UV450 Explorer by EnChroma on Amazon for $449.99 but on the EnChroma website, it recommends the Cx-PT Explorer by EnChroma. Is there a difference besides price? Do you know anything about that? You can add me on Google+ because I would love to chat with you about it, Great blog post!

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