Color for the Colorblind

Kelly Kittell's EnChroma CX Receptor colorblind-correcting sunglasses arrived with the following warning: When first trying on the lens, the unusual appearance of colors may be visually distracting. "It’s a bit of an understatement. The first time I saw brick red I was so overwhelmed I stopped cold. Purple and lavender, where have you been all my life?"

By Kelly Kittell at 5:12 am Fri, May 9, 2014

My EnChromas aren’t sexy looking and they were early-adopter expensive. They came with a carrying sack, cleaning cloth, and an instruction manual. The manual starts with a number of grim imperatives, like don’t touch the special lens, and one that most certainly will be ignored: “Removing the eyewear, even momentarily, will tend to reduce the effectiveness of the color enhancement.” You won't be able to stop yourself from peeking under the glasses over and over again to verify your favorite gray sweater is actually a dusty rose. It is.

They only work outdoors on a sunny day, and it takes about 10 minutes for your brain to start processing the colors. The lenses are 100% UV and scratch-resistant, and work by reshaping the spectrum light coming into your eyes. Enchroma also says the glasses come with Digital Color Boost, which, it turns out, is not a laundry additive, but an amplifier of the color signal coming to the brain. Science, bitch!

Unexpectedly, the glasses make me a safer driver. Colorblind people react significantly slower to red signals, and there are a number of countries where we can’t get drivers licenses. With my Enchroma sunglasses, I can see the three distinct colors of a stoplight for the first time, and red stop signs and lit brake lights jump out with a new urgency. You'd think insurance companies would be all over this, but not so much.

I wouldn’t say the glasses are life changing, but they certainly do enhance it. Since I've started wearing the glasses, I've been carrying a small card showing the colors I see versus normal vision:

When someone asks about my colorblindness, this answers the inevitable question, "Well, what colors do you see?" It's like having a Ripley's Believe It or Not exhibit in your wallet -- people gasp when they see it.

Enchroma’s glasses prices have come down considerably and they have a lot more styles since I got mine. They all come with a month trial period, and even if you don’t end up buying them, you’ll still have a month’s worth of candy-colored memories.

EnChroma glasses: $380-$440

Published 5:12 am Fri, May 9, 2014

About the Author

Kelly Kittell can do all sixteen dances, including the Shy Tuna. He is also participating in this year's AIDS LifeCycle ride, raising money to help end new HIV infections. You can support him here.

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