Do EnChroma Glasses “Work”?




Transcript

You’ve seen the videos. Burly men put on EnChroma glasses, break down in tears, melt your heart… and for a brief moment, remind you that the world isn’t all politics, global warming and anti-vaxxers. The comments on these videos are brimming with people who are inspired by such anonymous internet emotion… inspired enough to drop an emoji anyway…

but what is common between 99% of these comments, is none of them really understand how the glasses work, they just see the tears so… they must work… right? Because on one hand, you can find thousands of people who claim from first hand experience that the glasses changed their lives. But on the other hand, you can find a souring online sentiment towards EnChroma, kindled at least in part, to a paper released in 2018 from the University of Granada that “debunked” the EnChroma glasses, proving that they ‘don’t work’, or specifically: “neither improve results in the diagnosis tests nor allow the observers with CVD to have a more normal color vision.” 

So are those thousands of endorsements just some coordinated astroturfing conspiracy to prop up the profits of a company that sells $300 pieces of plastic? …Damn… that woulda been a sweet topic for a video… No, sadly, it’s simply a matter of people pushing completely different meanings behind the question “do they work?”

Today on Chromaphobe, I’m going to offer half a dozen different interpretations of this question… and surprise… the answer is not always the same.

I want to point out at this point that this video is not sponsored, but that I discussed this script with an EnChroma executive to give them the opportunity to refute any of my points. Where they strongly disagree with my statements, you will see a number like this and I will add a footnote in the description paraphrasing their objection. So, “do they work?” Lets start with the interpretation that infuriates people the most:

Will they give you normal color vision?

No.

Enchroma is quick to point out that they have not developed a cure for any kind of colorblindness. In fact, no popular maker of color corrective glasses claims this, with the obvious exception of the Ali-express scam of the week. Though some WILL use ‘cure’ in quotations, kinda like:

“Yeah baby, the doctor said my herpes is ‘cured’.”

Which…. I think we agree is an inherently untrustworthy word to put quotations around. Any of these glasses are not even close to being a cure because they cannot make you see like a color-normal person [1]. They don’t make you see ‘full color’ or ‘true color’ or ‘correct colors’ and just as an aside, there is no such thing as ‘full’, ‘true’ or ‘correct’ colors…

Regardless, when enchroma explains that their glasses won’t give you normal color vision, they also remind you:

“It’s not just about seeing color, it’s about seeing the world.”

…and to their credit, Enchroma is very careful – at least recently – to not infer that their glasses are a cure, stating rather that their glasses ‘bring colorful possibilities’ and ‘contribute to the human experience’ or ‘maximize color impact’.

But these cliches don’t communicate ANYTHING much less explain how or whether the glasses “work”, but just because they don’t give you normal color vision doesn’t mean they don’t work… so let’s move on to possible interpretation #2 of “do they work”:

Will they help you see color for the first time?

No.

Despite their original slogan “color for the colorblind” and other taglines like “making color possible” hiding behind some useful ambiguity, Enchromas will not make anyone see color for the first time. If you are colorblind or even if you’ve seen, like, ONE of my videos before, you will know that 99% of colorblind people do not see in black and white. We see color, we just have a smaller color gamut to work with.

The 0.1% of the colorblind – the monochromats who see in grayscale – will have zero effect from the glasses. It’s beyond impossible. All they will experience is a slight dimming of their vision. No glasses will ever make them see any color.

Hell, my type of colorblindness, dichromacy – an intermediate between monochromacy and trichromacy – is mild enough that some dichromats go their whole life without realizing they perceive color differently from anyone else, yet it’s still too severe for the glasses to have any effect [2].

The only colorblind people the glasses can work on are the anomalous trichromats, which are the mildest color vision deficiencies and they can absolutely already see loads of colors… and vibrant ones too… contrary to what you color normals see in this non-ideal simulation! so the glasses definitely aren’t making anyone see color for the first time. If you want to get into semantics though, let’s look at interpretation #3:

Will they help you see A color for the first time?

Probably not. 

You may see a shade of a color you’ve never seen before, just like walking into the produce section at your local ethnic grocery may let you see a specific shade of a color you’ve never seen before.

But you won’t see a color you weren’t capable of perceiving before [3]. However, this argument is only gonna make sense in another video once I can go into the technicalities of Enchromas glasses, so let’s move on to…

Interpretation #4 of “do they work”

Will they help you get your dream job?

Mostly No.

There are several jobs – be it the military, police or astronaut that require an applicant to pass a colorblind test. This even includes air traffic controllers, and if you are an aspiring air traffic controller, good for you for having unique goals, but maybe develop a contingency plan, because color corrective glasses are never allowed in tests and color corrective contacts are not readily available so you may have to find a different way to flaunt your NATO phonetic alphabet.

Of course, there are several other jobs – be it electrician or chemist – that also rely heavily on color but where there is generally no screening procedure for colorblindness. In this case, while the glasses won’t help you get the job, they may make that job easier to perform.

But hypothetically, say you bribe the medical examiner to let you wear glasses for your Ishihara test somehow, interpretation #5 is therefore:

Will they help you pass colorblind tests?

Mostly No.

When it comes to common tests like the Ishihara or D15, Enchroma glasses will not help you to significantly increase your scores and it says this plainly on their website [4]. Strangely though, it’s not hard to “cheat” on a colorblind test. There are several simpler ways to do so, including with different kinds of glasses.

For example, when I take the enchroma test on my computer through one of these standard 25c magenta light filters, I can improve my test result from a severe protan to a mild protan. Does a purple piece of plastic improve my color vision? Of course not, it simply makes the green darker compared to the red, so I can use the contrast in brightness to differentiate the dark green from the bright red. This works because the relative brightness of the green and red in this ishihara plate are tuned to the type of colorblindness it is trying to detect.

You throw any of a number of filters in front of it, and you are going to screw it up. This filter is a blunt solution that helps you pass a test, but doesn’t improve your color vision… whatsoever. Since Enchromas don’t help you pass the test, then you’d expect them to at least improve your color vision in another way, right?

So Interpretation #6:

Will they help you drive?

Maybe.

Deutans have reported being able to better differentiate green, yellow and red signal lights. They even seem to help protans – who tend to mistake the green signal light for white street lights – to see them as actual green.

However, if you’ve seen my video on driving, the biggest problem for protans is actually seeing reds as dimmer – such as brake lights… which increases our reaction time to seeing them. Unfortunately, the glasses do not have a positive effect on that deficiency, so protans, you will have to continue to not tailgate.

Enchroma also cautions wearing them while driving [5], because you’ll be distracted by all the bright objects and may veer off the street like a bull charging a matador’s bright red cape… only part of which is true.

Interpretation #7

Will they help you see the world as more colorful?

Yes… ish.

If you hear the raw testimonials, the most common claim is that the glasses make certain colors “pop”. This means that the saturation of some colors increases. If I had to demonstrate how this could work on a field of tulips, it may look something like <this>,

but explaining it in any more detail is really opening up a whole other technical can of worms, where we are going to have to bring together everything we’ve learned so far in this channel, when I explain HOW Enchromas actually work, which I will do in the sequel to this video.

…and seeing colors as more saturated is 100% equivalent to seeing the world as more colorful. If that’s what you expect from the glasses, then they work, kinda, which brings me to Interpretation #7a

Will they help YOU see the world as more colorful?

Maybe

The answer is highly dependent on your type and severity of colorblindness. All of my answers have already made the assumption that “you” have a type of colorblindness that is responsive to the glasses,

but in reality, only about ⅔ of red-green colorblind people will respond at all to the glasses. Who makes up that other ⅓, is rather well defined and includes primarily all the dichromats, including protanopia and deuteranopia. But EnChroma’s interesting strategy is to bury that information….?

Now Enchroma is definitely upfront about the glasses having limited scope and offers a 60-day money back guarantee which according to the colorblind community is rather hassle free.

However, they are not upfront about warning the dichromats before they buy them. Rather, they treat the distinction very imprecisely, like “you win some you lose some, eh!

And I can’t blame them, it is practically impossible to distinguish between a dichromat and an anomalous trichromat using a test on your device.

However, a test result of “strong protan” includes both protanopia (dichromacy) and severe protanomaly (anomalous trichromacy), which means the glasses chances of helping you decreases substantially if your online colorblindness tests come back as strong or severe.

Now it’s clearly in their own self interest to obfuscate this little piece of wisdom. After all, they don’t want to scare off business. They don’t want people with strong CVD to think

meh, looks like they probably won’t work on me, I guess I won’t bother trying”, which as a strong protan, is exactly my sentiment… you could even call me EnChromaphobe.

But even I recognize that my diagnosis COULD be wrong, I COULD have severe protanomaly instead of protanopia and therefore the chances are non-zero that the glasses COULD affect me.

EnChroma wants everyone like me to think there is hope, so that they follow through with a purchase.

On top of that, when people DO buy them and they DO work, then the feeling of having beaten the odds, surely just makes it that much stronger of an experience [6]. 

But I’ll admit, I think it’s also in the customer’s best interest. EnChroma knows that the majority of their glasses are bought not by the colorblind person themselves, but by their friends or family.

And despite my parents being retired and having lots of time to watch my videos and therefore definitely knowing what type and strength of colorblindness I have… you send them to enchroma.com and give them all this criteria about dichromacy, pronatanopoly, yada yada… its just gonna stress ‘em out.

So enchroma obfuscates these details, says they may work for you, don’t say what “work” means and gives everyone hope that the glasses may just change their life. So…

Interpretation #8

Will Enchromas change your life?

*shrug*

The truth is, even two people with the same type and severity of CVD with the same change to their color vision could have wildly different experiences.

Now, I’m not looking to delegitimize anyone’s feelings, but I imagine people in general may react a little less emotionally to the glasses if they understood the truth behind their newfound vision.

Regardless, you can bet your ass that I’ll soon be looking at the problem with those pervasive EnChroma unboxing videos later.

This is Chromaphobe.

  • [1] EnChroma claims that for a “small sliver” of people, the glasses can make their color vision “normal”. I disagree. More on this in the next video.
  • [2] EnChroma wants me to clarify that the glasses are not intended to help with dichromats, so them not affecting dichromats does not mean their glasses are “not strong enough”, which is true.
  • [3] EnChroma still claims that they can make you see new colors, but after a long back-and-forth, we weren’t approaching an agreement. Luckily, this will not go unresolved, because this is exactly what my next EnChroma video is going to be discussing.
  • [4] Again, EnChroma claims (and I’ve also seen) that some people can improve their scores on some CVD tests. I believe that is because not all of their lenses have a neutral-color filter, so they can still have a similar effect as those 25 cent filters, even if it is a secondary effect.
  • [5] EnChroma claims these warnings are primarily for liability and that there should be no risk to wearing colors while driving as long as you are not trying them on for the first time while driving (or something equally as stupid).
  • [6] EnChroma thinks I am out to lunch with this interpretation. Fair enough, I’m no psychologist.

2 thought on “Do EnChroma Glasses “Work”?”

  1. Something contrary to your video about Enchromas is in my case I can actually see red as brighter and at a greater distance when wearing the Enchromas. I do have severe Protanomaly. I’ve done a simple test , not very scientific, but it proved to my satisfaction I could see red brake lights at at great distance. With glasses on I could easily see a red brake light in the distance and when I removed the glasses I could not see the red brake light. I don’t have an explanation for why this happens but in my case I’m certain red lights appear brighter visually with them on and actually were for driving for that very reason. Maybe it’s just me I’ve never heard anyone else make that claim.

    1. Interesting! Thanks for the report. I don’t have the first hand experience on the red lights, but based on the theoretical Enchroma filter, it seemed unlikely that it would help protans see dim reds and I asked a few EnChroma wearers for their impressions on that statement. I also couldn’t tell you what may be happening with your experience!

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