Arpad Sooky, Mark Eidemiller and John Ricci try on the EnChroma glasses for the first time. Mr. Eidemiller's daughter, Sarah,wearing regular sunglasses in background, and other family members watch them as they look at a Squirrel Hill mural.
Mark Eidemiller of Greensburg flips the glasses on and off to test how the glasses enhanced his color vision while his daughter, Sarah, watches his reaction.
By Lauren Rosenblatt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With the help of a new pair of sunglasses, Mark Eidemiller saw the color of his daughter’s eyes for the first time.
Mr. Eidemiller, 57, is red and green color deficient. Until Friday, when he tried on a pair of EnChroma sunglasses meant to help color vision, he thought his daughter’s green eyes were gray.
EnChroma, a California-based company, invited Mr. Eidemiller and two other Pittsburgh fathers to Eyetique in Squirrel Hill to participate in the “color reveal” and promote colorblind awareness, according to CEO Andy Schmeder. For about 80 percent of customers, the glasses enhance colors such as red and green, allowing people who are colorblind to distinguish between shades that they did not see clearly before.
Worldwide, 300 million people have color deficiencies. It is more prevalent in men, with about 1 in 12 men being colorblind and only 1 in 200 women. The condition is hereditary and carried on the X chromosome, so mothers are likely to pass it on to their sons, Mr. Schmeder said.
Mr. Eidemiller, a psychotherapist, said he prefers to call himself “color confused” and was curious yet hesitant to try the glasses.
“I didn’t know what to imagine,” he said. “I’m dazed at the vibrancy and definition of the colors. They’re not all faded in.”
The majority of people who are colorblind are deficient in red and green colors, but a few are blue and yellow deficient. Even fewer people are missing an entire pigment of color.
In order to see color, our eyes filter wavelengths from visible light into three different cones — blue, green and red. The red and green cones naturally overlap, but for people who are colorblind, the cones overlap too much, dimming the red and green colors to a murky brown. Although the glasses do not make any neurological changes, they act to pull the cones apart, allowing people to filter each wavelength properly, according to Lauren Pastucha, an optometrist at Eyetique.
A person’s genes will determine how much the cones overlap, which in turn determines how colorblind someone is, Dr. Pastucha said.
Mr. Eidemiller is moderately colorblind and said his condition made it difficult to discern the color of shoes, highway signs and traffic lights. His wife said he can infer what a color is supposed to look like, and drives by focusing on the location of the bright light at a stoplight rather than the color.
The glasses usually cost between $300 and $500, and insurance generally covers some of the cost. EnChroma is not the only company in the business of helping people who are colorblind.
In 2006, Mark Changizi, a neuroscientist, determined that in order for humans to see emotions and health signals — such as blushing or blanching — they must use a specific third cone that other primates do not have. Different levels of oxygenation, or the movement of blood cells under the skin, cause the coloring of skin that accompanies a blush, for example. Using this knowledge, Mr. Changizi and his partner Tim Barber developed glasses that would visibly enhance other people’s oxygenation to help people in the medical field focus on veins and tissues. The same technology can enhance other red and green colors for color-deficient people.
“We are amplifying a weak signal,” Mr. Changizi said. “By amplifying the red-green signal, [people who are colorblind] can notice the difference between yellow and orange because that little bit of red becomes more red.”
Mr. Changizi designed the glasses with medical purposes in mind, but said most people using them now just want to see red and green in the world around them.
EnChroma was designed with surgeons in mind, but Mr. Schmeder said optometrists have been most interested because they now have an option to offer people with the condition.
The company is planning similar colorblind-awareness events in cities around the country and he said they have received a couple hundred entries for participation.
The glasses will not enhance every color since they maintain an accurate “color balance,” according to Mr. Schmeder. But for Arpad Sooky, 37, the glasses transformed a pink shirt from looking 10 years old to brand new.
When Mr. Sooky was in high school he had trouble reading his textbooks that highlighted key words in red text. His eyes, he said, would confuse the red and black letters or skip entire words.
Now as a dentist, he often has to ask his wife to help him pick out the right color for a crown or molding. The glasses, he said, were “phenomenal.”
“I don’t want to take them off. The contrast of shades is so easy to pick out. I think I’m going to sleep in them.”
Lauren Rosenblatt: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1130.
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