Last year, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down schools across the country, Southland High School paraprofessional Heather Knutson noticed a sophomore student in biology class using the wrong colors for one of his assignments. She discovered that the student was color blind and couldn’t tell which color marker he was using.
Knutson soon learned that he was just one of 11 students in the Minnesota district who struggled with color vision deficiency (CVD), or “color blindness.” She was determined to find a way to help them. And she did, with the help of Lions.
She approached the Adams Lions Club with a proposal. Would they be willing to purchase eyeglasses that would help these students see in color?
EnChroma glasses were developed in the early 2000s by a glass scientist and a mathematician to alleviate the most common red-green color blindness.
CVD is caused by an excessive overlap of the red and green “cones” in the eye, creating confusion with colors containing red or green. While those with normal color vision see more than one million hues and shades, those with colorblindness see an estimated 2 to 10 percent of colors, resulting in colors that are muted and sometimes indistinguishable, say the experts at California-based EnChroma.
For people with red-green color blindness, reds, greens, and browns can look similar. To them, purple and blue look the same, red looks brown, green and pink look gray; and red and green stoplights can look almost white.
EnChroma glasses contain optical filters that remove wavelengths of light where the red and green cones in the eye of the color blind overlap excessively to enhance the separation between color channels. This helps those with colorblindness see colors more vibrantly and clearly.
With the support of the Southland superintendent, who is also color blind, Adams Lions purchased six pairs of EnChroma glasses at US$269 per pair for color blind students to borrow and wear in school when needed. The company sent an additional four pairs of sunglasses to help students differentiate colors outdoors on bright days.
Knutson is hopeful that these glasses will make a big difference to the students in her district.
Senior Josh Mullenbach knows what it’s like to experience CVD and not have people realize his frustration.
“If I went golfing, I couldn’t see the tee because it was red,” Mullenbach said. “I wouldn’t be able to track a deer while out hunting. Hunting in ag[riculture] communities is a huge thing, and it’s very difficult to do that when you have trouble seeing red and orange and can’t tell blues from purples. Living with it is kind of like seeing in camouflage. The colors just blend together.”
Eight-year-old Southland student Derek Steinkamp has been trying to make his rainbows match those of kids with normal color vision since he could first hold a crayon.
Derek’s parents first questioned his vision when he was helping his mother in the garden as a toddler and couldn’t tell the difference between the green tomatoes and the red ones. By kindergarten, teachers confirmed Derek had color blindness during a vision screening.
Now, deciphering math charts and participating in art class have gotten a lot easier with the EnChroma eyeglasses donated by Lions. “If he doesn’t have the glasses on in art, he has to read the name of the color on the side of the crayon,” she says.
Lions clubs in several other states including Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia, have also supported the purchase of EnChroma glasses for students or schools.
In Massachusetts, high school senior Cabot Priestner, who received EnChroma glasses from Lions his freshman year, worked with the Westport Lions Club to raise US$1,525 for the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund, and collected more than 1,000 used eyeglasses for Lions Recycle For Sight program.
“I was saved from seeing a world of dull greys and muted browns,” says Priestner. He hopes the money he raised will help researchers with other new discoveries.
This story comes from the staff of LION Magazine. For more great stories about the work Lions do, visit lionmagazine.org.
Based on reporting by Jane Orvik
Joan Cary is the assistant editor of LION Magazine.