Sunglasses provide fix for color blindness

January 22, 2013 10:09:00 PM PST
Sometimes, the best inventions are discovered by accident -- that's how a local scientist came across a remedy for color blindness.

Andy Schmeder is taking a test to determine how quickly he can tell colors apart. It's the test used in the clinical trials for a new kind of glasses -- called EnChroma -- that help you see colors better.

Don McPherson discovered it by accident when his friend borrowed a pair of his laser safety goggles to use as sunglasses while playing ultimate Frisbee.

"And he said these are great, I can see the cones and i didn't know what he was talking about but it turned out he was severely colorblind and he could see the orange cones on the green grass for the first time in his life," McPherson said.

Colorblindness is a genetic defect in the retina's color-sensing pigments.

"We have one that's sensitive to green light, and one that's sensitive to red light and you can immediately notice that the green and red photo-sensitive pigments overlap each other a lot," McPherson said.

To someone with a color deficiency, the red and green overlap so much that they both look basically brown unless you can block a narrow part of the spectrum between red and green.

That's what EnChroma does.

But for someone who's color deficient, it goes way beyond just a new appreciation for plant life. The manmade world is built out of colors, and being able to tell them apart can be a matter of safety.

From traffic lights to road signs, if you can't see color McPherson says you're more likely to hesitate when you have to make a split second decision. In the clinical trials he says colorblind patients made those snap judgments 30 percent faster with the glasses on.

But what really tickles him is something else.

"They're pointing at a lavender flower and they've never seen lavender before in their life, you know, that's the goose bump moment for me," he said.

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