This fall, for the first time, Jonathan Mark will be able to appreciate the bright reds, oranges and yellows that appear in the trees before they shed their leaves.
“I’ve never seen the red in the trees,” Mark, 34, said. “There’s a vibrance. You wouldn’t see the vibrancy in that tree, it just wouldn’t be there before.”
Mark, who is colour blind, took people’s word for it when they told him about fall colours. To him, everything looked dark and dull, and there was little difference between a green leaf and a red one.
Mark was one of three people with colour blindness who received a free pair of special glasses from Maple Ridge Eye Care that helped them see colours in a new way.
“It’s like rediscovering something all over again,” Mark said, looking at a tree that was beginning to turn.
A person who has colour blindness has difficulty seeing red, green, blue, or a mix of these colours. Red-green colour blindness, which is most common, affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women, or about 1.6 million Canadians.
To these people, colours will be washed out or indistinguishable from each other — pink may look grey, red looks brown, red and green stoplights are whitish, and brown appears green.
Most colour vision problems are genetic and present at birth, although aging, injury or medication side effects can also cause colour blindness.
Murray Hurlbert, an optometrist and owner of Maple Ridge Eye Care, said the special glasses that were given out on Monday, called EnChroma, have optical filters that help those who are colour blind see colours differently.
“It won’t be exactly the same as what a person with normal colour vision will see, but with the filters that take out some of the red and green wavelengths of light, it will then mimic what a normal person will see. It will be quite close in some cases,” said Hurlbert, who also has colour blindness.
Hurlbert said the expectations for success with the glasses depend on the severity of a person’s colour blindness — for instance, the glasses do not work for him, but others may see an immediate difference.
Mark, who is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning mechanic and plumber, was able to tell the difference between multiple shades of one colour for the first time, although he couldn’t tell for sure what colour it was.
“These looked the same to me before,” he said, pointing to two purple felt-tip markers. “I could not tell the difference.”
For Jordie Lepage, a filmmaker and photographer, the lenses made colours appear more vibrant. He has struggled to see subtle colour differences and has worked around his colour blindness by using technical aids.
“For me, it’s nice to see a bit more colour depth,” he said.
Lepage, 33, said he looks forward to taking in his surroundings at home in Squamish.
“The colours in the mountains and that — being so close to nature, it would be a great thing to see a bit more of that,” he said.
Israel Matos is working on his PhD in microbiology and immunology at the University of B.C. He has trouble with the data that is presented in colour-graphic form in research publications, and tends to avoid certain techniques when conducting laboratory research because he can’t identify targets based on their fluorescent labels.
Matos, 29, said he saw more contrast and brightness after a few minutes of wearing the EnChroma glasses.
“I want the weather to clear so I can see a sunset,” he said.
Maple Ridge Eye Centre is one of three retailers authorized to sell EnChroma glasses in British Columbia, and the only one in the Lower Mainland. Hurlbert said he fields inquiries about the glasses, which cost between $400 and $600 a pair, about once a week.
“It’s a cool thing to be able to offer people,” said business manager Eileen Grieve. “It’s just different, and it can be life-changing.”