Ryan Oakes was born colorblind but it wasn’t until first grade when his mother discovered it.
“My mom was watching me color the tree trunks green and the leaves brown. She said, let’s get you tested,” said Oakes.
He’s in good company. One in 12 men and one in 200 women are colorblind totaling about 13 million in the United States, 30 million in Europe, and 350 million worldwide.
EnChroma, a company that manufactures glasses that let the colorblind see colors, surveyed approximately 1,000 colorblind people and parents of colorblind children shared experiences on how their colorblindness - technically called Color Vision Deficiency - has impacted their education.
“The evidence is overwhelming that colorblindness creates learning challenges for color-blind students. Parents, educators, and politicians must become more aware of the prevalence of color vision deficiency its impact, and take action,” said Erik Ritchie, CEO of EnChroma.
Oakes tried a pair of Enchroma glasses two years ago, it was an emotional change.
“When driving along the road flowers would just blend,” he said. “With these glasses, I could see the red and the green flowers, and also all the fall colors when traveling. The indoor contrast is different. It’s cool,” said Oakes.
Anythink Library Wright Farms is hosting a program featuring the glasses this month, allowing colorblind members to borrow a pair and perhaps see color for the first time.
They’ve also posted photos and art in the library, with two versions of each piece. One appears the way a normally-sighted person would see them. The other has been edited to show how a colorblind person would see them.
“I was excited when I heard the library was offering the glasses so my wife got me these. When you’re confronted with something normal to you, and then you see change on how the world is, it’s emotional.”
It’s part of EnChroma’s Color Accessibility Program that helps schools, state parks, libraries, museums, public venues and other organizations purchase and loan EnChroma glasses to colorblind students to help with homework and visitors to see colorful exhibits, and attractions.
In 2019, the Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art became part of the EnChroma Color Accessibility program, lending EnChroma glasses to visitors with colorblindness to experience the colors of art.
Anythink Wright Farms was inspired by this program, according to Stacie Ledden, Anythink director of strategic partnerships. They began loaning the glasses to members in December, offering an EnChroma kit that includes the glasses and a book with colorful illustrations. The kits can be checked out for up to three weeks, allowing color-blind visitors to experience their homes and community in color.
Anythink is also offering a limited number of MCA passes to its customers that check out the kits.
“The library is responding to community needs by offering EnChroma glasses to Anythink Wright Farms customers,” Ledden said. “The glasses offer a new perspective on the world. By making glasses available for checkout to customers experiencing CVD, we have the potential of helping 17,845 men and 1,093 women in Adams County to see many colors for the first time.”
Seeing red…and green
People with normal color vision see over one million shades of color. The colorblind only see approximately 10 percent of hues and shades.
Common colors that the color-blind are confused with are green, yellow, gray, pink, purple, blue, red, and brown appearing muted and dull. Since 80% of information is processed visually it causes issues for color-blind students in school, according to the study.
EnChroma glasses are built with special optical filters that help the colorblind see the range of colors within the spectrum of colors more vibrantly with the accuracy of colors.
The EnChroma glasses were invented by founders Dr. Don McPherson, Chief Science Officer for the company, and Andy Schmeder in early 2000. McPherson stumbled upon what the glasses could do while he was playing frisbee and wearing a pair of tinted laser safety glasses he was designing. A friend borrowed the glasses and was shocked he could see the color orange.
“Most people are born with color vision deficiency (CVD). It is a condition inherited genetically,” McPherson said via email. “The colorblind gene is carried recessively on the X chromosome maternally. Since women have two X chromosomes if they get the color-blind gene they have a “backup” and are not colorblind.”
“Since men have only one X chromosome, they do not have a `back up’ X, which is why men are more often colorblind than women,” he said. “Some people can suffer an injury to their retina that can render them colorblind. Additionally, color vision declines with age as part of natural macular degeneration. However, most people are born colorblind.”
Some states test students for colorblindness as standard practice, but Colorado is not one of them. Oakes said he was lucky to grow up in Nebraska, where the testing is standard. That testing confirmed his diagnosis, which allowed him to adapt. He currently works as a Pastor.
“I’m red-green colorblind. I have the green deficiency so I see Pro-tan, I can’t see green very well but when I see red and green together in certain settings it’s difficult out to pull out these colors,” Oakes said.
The biggest change for Oakes with the glasses his hobby is playing board games. The board games have colors for your teams.
“Until recently they haven’t done much for colorblind people and are trying to do more but when I put these glasses on playing the board games I can see all the colors and see the distinction.”
EnChroma encourages schools to quickly test students. Its test is easy and in under two minutes for colorblindness and it is free online at enchroma.com. Also, Anythink library offers an illustrated book to test for colorblindness.
McPherson said he’s gratified his invention is helping people.
“It is inspiring to hear from colorblind people that our glasses are helping them with everyday obstacles and frustrations from matching clothes, picking ripe fruits, enjoying the wonders of the colors of the rainbow, or better understanding color-coded information at work or school - to more profound experiences such as seeing the colors in their child’s artwork, the eye or hair color of a loved one or the colors of a sunset over the Rockies,” he said.
Ledden is asking members to share their experience using the EnChroma glasses at email@example.com.