Alex Pelaia and his girlfriend were driving through Red Rock Canyon in Nevada when – to her, at least – the obvious beauty was all around them.
“Don’t you think it’s cool how there’s different shades of red along the rocks?” Heather Simmons said.
“Um, ah, sure,” Pelaia replied in such unconvincing fashion that full disclosure was his only real option in this, the opening months of their relationship.
Pelaia told Simmons he was colourblind, a condition that on many levels doesn’t affect his life. The 28-year-old works as a professional firefighter, loves to hike and fish and travel, and can see most colours. But to Pelaia, greens tend to dominate – dull, muted greens.
Just the type of person, in other words, who could benefit from special glasses. And it’s how Pelaia found himself in a Montgomery County, Md., park this fall with five others, all bespectacled, in the great outdoors for the launch of a parks program that offers a more complete version of nature for people like him.
“Look at how red the tree is back there,” he said, pointing to the full fall foliage.
Others locked in on a different hue.
“I can definitely see the different shades of green out there, no doubt,” said Jon Swartz, 31, a turf management professional constantly challenged by how greens and reds bleed into each other. “It’s a nightmare,” he told the others.
The program, now up and running, makes the colour-correcting glasses available for free use at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. The company that makes the glasses, EnChroma, supports such glasses-loaning programs at more than 400 museums, parks and other places across the nation.
Those who tried the glasses at the launch lauded the devices before veering into self-deprecating jokes about fashion mishaps.
“I’m now afraid to look in my closet,” said Matthew Whitley, a correctional officer from St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland.
“There’s a reason,” added ecologist Mike Selckmann, “that I wear neutrals all the time.”
The glasses being tried generally retail for US$189 to $349, and there appears to be growing demand for them. Research and Markets, a publisher of financial reports, projects the global market for all makers of colour-correcting glasses will nearly triple to $88 million by 2030.
EnChroma’s glasses cannot improve tint perceptions for the most serious form of colourblindness – monochromacy – an extremely rare condition in which people only see in black and white, according to John S. Werner, a vision scientist at the University of California at Davis Eye Center who has conducted research on the EnChroma glasses. Nor can the glasses help those whose colourblindness relates to blues and yellows, Werner said.
The devices can assist those with the most common forms of colourblindness – difficulty processing greens and reds – by focusing on the “cone receptors” designed to pick up on those two colours. The glasses specifically filter out narrow wavelength bands, according to Werner, which reduces the overlap between green reception and red reception.
On this score, Werner said, the glasses appear to bring out sharper tones and bolder colours to most users. “They really pop,” said Werner, who is colourblind himself and uses the glasses.
With a pair on, he says, walks with his dog Aria include brightened sunsets, sharper flowers and, not unimportantly, a way to distinguish green grass from the browns left behind by Aria. “Before the glasses,” he jokes, “I had difficulty.”
Pelaia and others participating in the Montgomery County kickoff received a complimentary pair of the glasses.
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