What could be more fun for a 5-year-old than coloring?
For me, just about anything. Cleaning my room. Eating vegetables. Dysentery.
Five is about the age I started getting mocked for coloring in a clown's lips green instead of red, the age when I found out that I couldn't always rely on my eyes to help me navigate the strange, wide world.
School life was already hard being left-handed and klutzy, but finding out -- the hard way -- that I was colorblind too pretty much cemented my place as a social pariah. Kids are already cruel, pouncing on and exploiting any weakness in the kind of playground bullying that can leave scars on a fragile young psyche.
So I've heard.
There are glasses for blurry vision. Why weren't there glasses, I groused often while growing up, that could fix colorblindness -- or at least make it easier for me to distinguish one shade from another?
It took half my lifetime, but now there finally are, and using them is like night and day.
Life in Kodachrome
For me, being colorblind doesn't mean that I don't see colors; I just don't see them correctly. Imagine a fresh eight-pack of crayons. Red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown and black. Generally speaking, I have little trouble distinguishing those basics from one another. But the more subtle the shades get -- what the heck is "burnt sienna"? -- the harder it gets. And seriously, screw pastels.
At the point I have to figure out if white works well with cream, I have to stop and think about what each color really looks like. It's sort of like seeing indigo blue and black near each other. At first they might look different, but the longer you look, the more they blur together. Sometimes, co-workers point out colors to test me. "What is this?" they say. Brown. "And this one?" More brown. My mind knows one is probably green and one is generally red, but my eyes can't seem to pull their weight.
Then came EnChroma. It's a company based in Berkeley, California, that makes all sorts of glasses for colorblind people like me. So I asked them to send me a pair of the sunglass variety to test for CNET, the EnChroma Cx Receptors. They conveniently slip over my everyday glasses, because yeah, my regular vision isn't so hot either.
The company makes a variety of types of lenses, including custom lenses to fit your frames and prescription lenses, so even if you have less-than-stellar eyesight, you can still benefit from the technology. The glasses start at about $330, and the custom lenses start at about $350. Those of you outside the US will have to contact the company about price and availability, but those prices convert to about £210 in the UK and AU$450.
Now to be clear, these glasses don't cure colorblindness. They use filters to kind of clean up the signals that go to the cone cells in your eyes that absorb red and green.
By now you've probably seen videos of colorblind people trying on these special glasses that allow them to see colors the way they should be. There are a lot of big smiles and gasps and misty eyes and exclamations that the wearers can finally experience the world in full, that they had never really realized all that they were missing.
While my reaction wasn't as dramatic as those in those videos, let me assure you, the sentiment is right up there.
Completing the picture
I don't like to say I'm an artist, but I do love to draw. I cartoon and color; it makes me happy, and it makes my kids laugh. Colorblindness is an annoying visual obstacle that gets in the way. I'd love to color my drawings without always second-guessing that I just spent the last half hour coloring someone's skin in an unintended shade.
Wearing EnChroma glasses makes such a difference. It's as though they boldly label all the colors in the spectrum. It's astounding. To be fair, one of the things I saw was a Yellow Cab sign, so it was labeled, but you get the point.
Even with the glasses on, I still have some problems distinguishing among shades of purple, but just the fact that I can immediately -- confidently -- answer someone who asks what color something is, that's a new sensation. It's similar to the difference someone who is nearsighted sees when putting on glasses for the first time. The whole world opens up.
The only drawback is that they're not designed for wearing indoors, so if you are an outdoors-adverse person (hey, I don't judge), you might not be quite as excited. That said, they've made me consider going outside to appreciate nature and even do a little coloring, which is saying a lot for an indoorsy guy like me.
Color me impressed.