Berkeley, Calif., fifth-grader Vineeth Prabhuvenkatesh has always had trouble differentiating colors. He is among the 8 percent of males who have some sort of color vision deficiency, which is most often marked by an inability to differentiate particular colors, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Vineeth recently received help from EnChroma, a growing Berkeley-based company that has developed sunglasses to help people with color vision deficiencies. For Vineeth, the biggest shock when he put on the glasses several months ago was seeing how much greenery is outdoors.
“It was so overwhelming,” he said. “I kept asking, ‘What color is that?’ ”
The glasses are based on about 10 years of R&D by EnChroma founders Andy Schmeder and Don McPherson. McPherson, a glass scientist, had developed different eyeglasses for surgeons to protect their eyes from laser tools. When a colorblind friend said the glasses helped him see color, McPherson began to explore the idea of glasses to help colorblind people, and he brought on Schmeder as the research developed.
Schmeder said that so far, EnChroma’s rollout of its products to optometry centers has been slow and deliberate as the company figures out how to manage the supply and demand. The glasses, between $260 and $350, are in 30 optometry offices around the world. His goal, however, is to team with many more optometrists worldwide to deliver EnChroma products.
Before EnChroma, San Ramon, Calif., optometrist Michael Duong said he had few options to assist his colorblind patients. Some contact lenses help colorblind people separate colors, but they don’t do much to help convey the accurate color of objects as EnChroma does, he said.
“This changes patients’ lives,” Duong said, because even if color vision deficiency is mile, it can affect how people see traffic lights, how creatives perform in artistic professions and the professions people can pursue. Pilots and several military options are off limits to those who are colorblind.