Thursday, March 26, 2015

High-tech glasses may help remedy color blindness


The normal perception of color depends on having distinct sets of color receptors, including green cones and red cones, each of which has a peak sensitivity to a slightly different wavelength of light.

Simulated cause and effect of color blindness—Images courtesy EnChroma
When their signals are interpreted by the brain, they allow red and green colors to be easily distinguishable.

The photo on the left represents normal color vision, and the one on the right simulates the way things look to people with red-green color blindness. The charts shows how the gap between the green cones and red cones are narrowed in people with red-green color blindness.
Normal and Deuteranoptic vision, courtesy Color-Blindness.com

Another way to think of it is that for people with color blindness, the red and green signals are making noise on the same channel. It's like having two radio signals going at the same time. You can't make out what they're saying on either station, and red and green end up being mixed up. People with color blindness have the necessary healthy receptors. The only problem is that they're too close to each other.


To address this problem, engineers at EnChroma developed special filters which fine-tune the light going to each of those closely nested receptors. The result is a genuine experience of red, green, purple, and pink colors where they weren't visible before.


The promotional video (link to YouTube) shows the emotional effect of color-blind people trying on the glasses and seeing colors for the first time.

Because there are many kinds of color blindness, EnChroma is careful not to claim that this is a universal cure, but it appears to provide a helpful boost for many deutans. EnChroma/Valspar offers a free online color blindness test to see if they might be suitable.

Reviewers on Amazon say that the glasses sometimes take a while to get used to, and that you have to learn the names for unfamiliar colors. There are also concerns about the build quality and brittleness of the lenses.

Read EnChroma's more in-depth explanation 
Color blindness test

12 comments:

Robert Michael Walsh said...

This is fascinating. I used high band-pass filters of this sort in research I did in the early 1960s, and despite my early interest in color vision, never saw the possibility of using the sharp filtration capability of interference filters to adjust human vision. Now with a colorblind grandson I am very interested in this development. The EnChroma approach is to sharply block much of the overlapping red and green cone light adsorption. I would like to experience myself, with normal color vision, what my color perception would be with the sharper color separation provided by the EnChroma lenses.

Kevin Mizner said...

This certainly sparked my interest. I'm a color blind painter, and although most people don't notice it in my work (or they are just being kind!) I would like to see what I'm missing. Would it be a dream come true, or would I fight the colors I see? HHmmm....

Ник said...

The helpfulness of this post and the whole blog fascinates me! Could I ask the question that isn't matches the discussion? James, will you do a video where you paint with enamel on the sketchbook cover? Do you do pencil lines first? Thank you and sorry for my bad grammar and being annoying.

James Gurney said...

HNK, yes, that's a good idea. I'll be sure to have the video camera nearby next time I paint the lettering on a sketchbook cover.

Robert and Kevin, will you report back with comments about your experience if you try out your experiments?

Laura G. Young said...

Nearly everyone I know has shared that link with me this week! It was nice that the video included a gal such as myself (colorblindness is more associated with guys) but it was a bit annoying that they had to emphasize the actor's disappointment after taking the glasses off. I mean, I may not see full color like the rest of you, but I enjoy what I DO see. Why would I want a product that would make the world that I've known since birth appear "dull" or "gray" by comparison? Crankiness aside, though, I'm curious if such a gadget could help me experience Viridian for the first time...

Lou said...

I'm fortunate I suppose in that my red/green deficiency is relatively mild compared to others I know. But it does give me problems from time to time in plein air, especially in situations where there's not a "clear line" between colors (browns and greens and even reds of the same value lying side-by-side).
Jury's still out on these glasses. $400+ is a lot to pay for something that may not work. I'm Leary of gimmicks (I so wanted those x-ray glasses sold on the back of the comic books to work). So think I'll wait for one of the consumer publications to run an unbiased test.

Kevin Blagrave said...

There is a local retailer in my area. I hope to try them soon. I really wonder if they would relieve some of the struggles I've had learning how to paint.

Katie said...

Laura, I had the same reaction to the video. The concept is cool, and the guy seeing his kid's drawing was great. But lingering on the girl's deflated face after taking off the glasses, and the wistful concluding shot of a spectacular sunset with "you get to see this every day?" (um, no, not at all) struck me as gratuitous, offensive, and either cruel or cynical. It reduced the video from an interesting mini-documentary to a mere advertisement, trying to make people feel inadequate and drum up a perceived need for their product. Similar in a way to those Dove ads about "Real Beauty." Anyway I guess it's just capitalism. Kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth but the underlying concept and product is genuinely cool and interesting.

James Gurney said...

Katie and Laura, thanks for explaining your reaction -- I can understand why this video could be offensive. I just saw the video by itself at first, and I didn't like it because it didn't explain how the glasses worked -- it was like: "This is magic, isn't it wonderful? Now buy it!" That's why in the post I started with the explanation and ended with the video. I look forward to hearing what deutans and normally-sighted people experience after trying them.

Regarding the red-green versus blue-yellow poles of color experience, I would just say that lately I've been fascinated by doing paintings that jettison the red-green dimension, and focus in on the blue-yellow (or warm-cool) ranges. It seems more primal and important to me. And that blue-yellow dimension is totally visible to deutans, right? So it's kind of a misnomer to call deutans "color blind" or to show them in a world of gray—or even to suggest that Life in Gray is somehow diminished. Sensitivity to tone is even more primal than warm-cool.

Kevin Blagrave said...

James, thats a really interesting take. While I was studying observational painting (nowadays i tend to use color systems) my paintings always had a tendency to go to the yellow and purple or orange and blue side of things. Of course I couldn't tell until a friend pointed it out. But it makes sense since I am a deutan.

Kevin Blagrave said...

Though I do wonder how, when You actually filter out wavelengths of light, you maintain the ability to see all colors. I understand that it can increase discrimination of hues, since you effectively eliminated the in between colors. But wouldn't it reduce the overall amount of distinct visible colors for the sake of increasing the visibility of the primaries?

Katie said...

:) Exactly! Like that amazing escutcheon you posted a while ago. Or the whole concept of the limited palette. The spectrum is gorgeous but meaningless on its own. By the way, I just googled "colorblind painter" and came across a couple of interesting examples, including the idea that van Gogh might have been colorblind. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/was-vincent-van-gogh-color-blind-it-sure-looks-like-it-27576085/?no-ist
http://www.npr.org/2014/11/16/364092778/for-one-artist-colorblindness-opened-up-a-world-of-black-and-white