One in 10 males is born colorblind, and as common as the condition is, there are few options for those who have it. But a Bay Area company co-founded by UC Berkeley alumni is working to change that.
EnChroma, based in Berkeley, offers color-corrected vision to those with red-green colorblindness, the most common of the three kinds of colorblindness. (People can also be blue-green colorblind or, very rarely, have a complete absence of color vision.)
UC Berkeley alumni Andrew Schmeder and Tony Dykes founded EnChroma along with glass scientist Don McPhearson, who had been researching lenses for the colorblind with a grant from the National Institutes of Health when he joined the team.
When people are colorblind, one or more of their retinas’ cones, which detect color, aren’t working properly. Those who are red-green colorblind can’t distinguish certain shades of red and green. EnChroma glasses work to filter out the light that the red and green photopigments sense most similarly, helping the brain receive more distinct information from each and making it easier to interpret color.
“Light has a spectrum just like sound,” Schmeder says. “There are high, middle and low frequencies. The balance of those three tell you what color it is.” The glasses force colors into their primary categories — red or green — instead of being in the intermediate shades.
Eventually, EnChroma hopes to customize its lenses to each person’s type and severity of colorblindness, and refine them to where they could be used in certain occupations currently unavailable to the colorblind, such as piloting, firefighting or commercial driving.