Q&A from the CEO of EnChroma

Q&A from the CEO of the company helping the colorblind enjoy fall foliage hues

Q&A from the CEO of the company helping the colorblind enjoy fall foliage hues

You have probably seen one of the many viral videos: Someone puts on a pair of normal-looking glasses, and they gasp, or break down in tears. Colorblind, for the first time they are seeing the range of contrasts in the fall foliage, or the true color of a loved one’s eyes.

The technology behind those revelations? Berkeley-based company EnChroma, which makes glasses that enrich color vision for the colorblind. Erik Ritchie is the company’s CEO, and he shares his vision for the future of seeing in color.

Q: What is color blindness?

A: To an extent color blindness is a misnomer. There are very few people who are truly colorblind and only see in grayscale. Most people have what we term “color vision deficiency.”

The eye has three cones that perceive color, they roughly equate to red, blue and green. The majority of folks that are colorblind have red-green color blindness, either the red or the green cone is deficient.

For folks who have color vision deficiency, there is an overlapping of colors. So greens look brown, reds look brown.

Q: How common is it?

A: It’s really quite prevalent. One in 12 men, and one in 200 women.

For someone that’s young and has color vision deficiency, oftentimes what is unfortunate is they are labeled as being slow learners. Lots of folks don’t even realize they’re colorblind, sometimes until high school or college. If it was known, they would be able to find ways to accommodate it.

The last we checked, only about 11 out of 50 states require testing for color blindness.

Q: For people who are colorblind, what other things can be difficult?

A: It affects them in lots and lots of ways, both big and small. If you start with school age folks, just think, everything in school is color-coded. From the teams, to the courses, to the games, to the crayons, everything is about color.

When cooking, is that steak that you’re cooking raw, rare, medium?

Then in your work life there are presentations, PowerPoints, lots of the materials are color coded.

I was actually talking to someone who was trying on the EnChroma glasses for the first time. He was an audiophile, with lots of stereo equipment. And he said, “I can never tell if they’re on or not, because the lights are always on, it’s just whether it’s green or red that tells me whether it’s on or off.” There’s so much information that is just kind of lost.

Q: How is your company addressing this accessibility issue?

A: We have glasses, and those glasses really allow people to see a lot more color. Essentially, what they do is manipulate light coming through the lens, we pull those signals apart, so it reduces that level of confusion.

In addition to the products, we do a lot of advocacy through our Color Accessibility Program.

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