Seeing Colours in Style

Here’s a test, can you see the numbers/design hidden within these dots? If yes, congratulations! You’re not colour blind.

Eight Ishihara charts for testing colour blindness. Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Roughly 1 in every 12 men and 1 in every 200 women suffer from colour blindness. The main reason for colour blindness is genetics. People with colour blindness are unaware that what they see might be a different colour than the majority of us. Fortunately for myself, I am not colour blind. But I cannot imagine living in a world without colours. Most of us are guilty of taking the ability to see colours for granted. Watching touching videos of people experiencing colours for the first time always gets me. Just watch this clip and get the feels.

Up till now, there are no known treatments to cure genetically inherited colour blindness. But EnChroma has developed a technology to help some people suffering from colour blindness see some colours for the first time!

In the pink! @EnChroma – Image credit: Flickr

How do we see colours?

Light is a form of energy. There is a wide spectrum of light; each with different wavelengths and energy. They range from the non-visible ultraviolet (UV) & infrared rays to the visible rays. Visible light appear to us as colours. Each colour has a different wavelength.

All objects absorb and reflect light. A leaf appears green to us because the leaf absorbs all the wavelengths of light except those that produces green light. Green light gets reflected by the leaf, enters our eyes, gets detected by cone cells (receptors in our eyes responsible for colours) and our brain interprets the light we see as green.

What is colour blindness?

Colour blindness is a broad term used for describing any colour vision deficiency. There are a few types of colour blindness.

While the most severe case would be a person not being able to see colours at all, the most common type of colour blindness is the Red-Green colour blindness also known as Deuteranopia. People suffering from Deuteranopia would mix up all colours that contain red or green in them. For example, purple is often confused as blue as they can’t see its red component.

Deuteranopia – colourblind simulation. Image credit: Flickr

Tritanopia is Blue-Yellow colour blindness. In this case, sufferers see blue as green, and yellow as violet or grey.

Tritanopia – colourblind simulation. Image credit: Flickr


EnChroma is currently the only company that manufactures specialised glasses that enable people with Deuteranopia to see red and green clearly. EnChroma has developed a “filtering” technology which is applied to their glasses. This technology filters out certain wavelengths of light to enhance certain colours. It also separates the overlapping wavelengths of red and green light. This fixes the “problem” of the faulty cone cells which are unable to detect red and green. Unfortunately, EnChroma does not have a solution to Blue-Yellow colour blindness yet.

(P.S. I wonder what people with normal vision would see if they put on EnChroma glasses..)

The future

Researchers in the US are on their way to finding a cure for colour blindness using gene therapy. It involves injecting genetic material into the eye and if all goes well, you’ll be able to see colours! Researchers have tested this on monkeys and were successful in curing colour blindness. All that’s left is to test this on humans. Well, that’s if you can handle having a needle in your eye though. Any volunteers?


Further tests for colour blindness and for more information:

3 Responses to “Seeing Colours in Style”

  1. Felicity says:

    Interesting article! I had been curious about those lens that let (some) colour-blind people see colour. The idea is pretty magical and I couldn’t imagine how they worked. Now you’ve got me wanting to actually try the lens though, just to see what would happen.

  2. Yau Low says:

    Hi Jessica, thank you for reading my post. I’m glad your brother is coping well with his colour blindness. He is lucky to have such a supportive family.
    That’s a good question. Well, in one experiment researchers had injected genes into the eye of monkeys with faulty cone cells (cells in the retina responsible for differentiating colours) and managed to produce normal working cone cells. They managed to detect brain activity and nerve responses when the monkey saw different colours. I hope that answer helped!

  3. Jessica Kamar says:

    Thanks for sharing this, what an amazing piece of technology! Those videos of people seeing colour for the first time really put into perspective how easily it is to take advantage of these simple pleasures. My brother is colour blind, and it was quite difficult for him as a child before we recognised that he didn’t see the world in quite the same way. Thankfully now he has become quite accustomed.
    I wonder how the researchers were able to conclude that the monkeys were cured from colour blindness? Is there a certain test they use to infer their perception of colour? Fascinating stuff!