New technology helps COC instructor see new colors

by Amanda Moulton 1,534 views0

Most people can see about 7 million shades of color. Now imagine only seeing a few or none at all.

College of the Canyons’ media entertainment arts lab technician Ron Entrekin has been color blind for the past 63 years but for the past 9 months has finally had the opportunity to see a more vast range of colors.

Entrekin has red-green color blindness, which means his red rods and green rods aren’t as active. Red and green are almost weaker colors to the eye.

“I only thought there were one or two shades of green, and there are tons of thousands,” Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.08.45 AMEntrekin said.

With the help of EnChroma eyewear products, Entrekin is now able to put on sunglasses, walk outside and see more color.

“This is my first spring with the glasses,” said Entrekin. “I’m shocked, some of the flowers I have I thought were blue when they actually have purple in them. It’s a little strange.”

EnChroma is a company dedicated to the study of enhancing color vision in humans, particularly the color blind.

Based in Berkeley, California, Don McPherson, one of the founders of EnChroma, was originally creating eyewear for doctors to use as protection during laser surgery.

Rare earth iron embedded in the glasses absorbed a significant amount of light, enabling surgeons to not only stay safe, but also clearly differentiate between blood and tissue during procedures.

Surgeons loved the glasses so much they began to steal the glasses and wear them outside of the hospitals.

McPherson, who has a PhD in glass science from Alfred University, also began casually wearing them as sunglasses.

“Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated,” McPherson said. “It makes the world look really bright.”

It wasn’t until a game of Frisbee that McPherson’s color blind friend Michael Angell borrowed his sunglasses and pointed out that he could see orange traffic cones nearby, McPherson then realized they could serve a wider purpose and help those who are color blind.

After making this discovery, he spent time researching color blindness and ultimately applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin conducting clinical trials.

Since then, McPherson and two colleagues, Tony Dykes and Andrew Schmeder, founded EnChroma Labs.

EnChroma is developing advanced eyewear products to impact the lives of the estimated 300 million people worldwide who are color blind.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 8.27.50 AM
Courtesy EnChroma.com

The most common form is known as red-green color blindness.

Blue-yellow color blindness is the second most common and a complete absence of color vision, total color blindness is rare.

For the majority of people, the condition is genetic.

Entrekin’s aunt and older cousin were also color blind.

Growing up was tough for Entrekin.

“I would do things differently; kids would always make fun of me, but my mother said to embrace it. Embrace my differences,” said Entrekin.

He could only read the color names on the crayons; if they didn’t have the label, Entrekin couldn’t use them.

Tired of unused crayons, Entrekin’s aunt Willy started a campaign with Crayola for the name to be at the end instead of the middle, since after sharpening the crayons the names would tear off.

After 15 years the crayon labels were finally changed.

When interviewing for the lab technician position at COC, Entrekin had to take a physical. Most jobs test for color blindness but, luckily for Entrekin, his job description didn’t require him to pass the color test.

“For about three out of four people who fail the test, the results come as a total shock. Their whole livelihood depends on passing the test,” said Dr. Joseph Cohen, an optometrist who treats color blindness in Kingston, New York.

Color blind people can usually perceive colors and have difficulty distinguishing only some of them; many don’t even know they have the deficiency.

Many professions, including firefighting, the military and law enforcement, restrict or even ban color blind people from some positions.

EnChroma believes that their lenses can help on certain types of tests, the details of which tests and under which conditions success can be expected is currently being studied.

The glasses are built on fundamental vision science. McPherson explains that all people have three photo pigments in the eye, also known as cones, which are sensitive to blue, green and red.

Blue operates fairly independently, while the red and green cones affect the perception of certain colors.

EnChroma’s technology works by placing a band of absorption on glasses that captures light, pushing the cones away from each other and reestablishing the normal distribution of photons on them.

Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world.

Color blindness is more dominant among more males than females. The most common form of color vision deficiency is encoded on the X chromosome.

With EnChroma lenses, people have reported that colors appear brighter and more saturated and their color discrimination is faster and more accurate.

“It’s overwhelming,” Entrekin said. “I was shell shocked the first couple of days I wore them outside.”

EnChroma has also found that their glasses are effective for about 80 percent of cases of color blindness.  The results vary depending on the type and extent of color vision deficiency.

“They didn’t give me full color, but they gave me a lot,” said Entrekin.

Entrekin is excited for the future with his sunglasses and can’t wait for more “wow” moments.

“It opened up the world I haven’t seen before.”