Technology helps colorblind people in Sammamish see colors for first time

VIDEO:Glasses for people who are colorblind

SAMMAMISH, Wash. — KIRO 7 was there Friday as three people in Sammamish saw colors for the first time.  They put on the Enchroma glasses, which use a technology that was discovered by accident in 2002 and then developed at the University of California Berkeley.

“I’ve been missing this for 39 years, all my life,” Nikk Woody of Monroe said after he put on the glasses. “But I didn’t know it for 39 years.”

Woody told KIRO 7 of difficulties he ran into as a chef because of his colorblindness.

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“I would have my wait staff come in and they'd write their orders on a pad with a green background,” he said. “Somebody would come in with a red pen, write their order, and hand it to me. I hand it back and say, 'It's blank. I can't read this.'”

On Friday, his wife confirmed to him that the balloon he was seeing was purple.

“That's purple?” Woody asked as he laughed.

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The glasses were developed for surgeons, but when a friend borrowed the inventor's glasses in 2002, he saw color for the first time. Now the Enchroma glasses have been developed for everyday use.

They were first available in the Seattle area in October 2017 and are currently available at seven eye care businesses in Western Washington.

Dr. Brian Duvall, of Sammamish Eye Associates, said we all have cones in our retinas that perceive wavelengths of light with slight variances, so we can see color. But for someone who is colorblind, the overlap is much larger and colors run together.

“The Enchroma lens technology uses special filtration to take out tiny slices of wavelengths of light to take away that masking effect. And give them the ability to see much sharper, more vivid saturation,” Dr. Duvall said.

The company behind the Enchroma glasses has patents in Japan and Australia, with patents pending in the United States. The cost is between $269 and $429 per pair and, as of now, vision insurance does not cover the cost.

Kim Lomman saw color for the first time Friday, and he immediately thought of little things most people take for granted.

“Being able to pick a banana that's actually ripe,” Lomman said.  “I always have to be careful that I’m getting a banana that’s ripe. Over even something like cooking, where I’ve eaten so much undercooked chicken because I can’t tell if it’s cooked or not.”

The technology can be added to prescription glasses, and today an Enchroma spokesperson told KIRO 7 the company is working with the Food and Drug Administration to approve contact lenses.

“I didn't know there were so many colors out there,” Woody said.  “This is great.”