SAN ANTONIO – After a scientist developed glasses to help doctors see better during laser surgery, his friend put on the glasses to play ultimate Frisbee and discovered that he could see the orange cones for the first time.
Seven years later, that idea became EnChroma, a company that helps the colorblind see color.
Barbra Lann cried the first time she put on her EnChroma glasses.
"It was amazing," she said. "From the minute I put them on, I didn't realize that it wasn't just greens that I was not seeing, it was also things like blues, browns, reds."
Chief scientist Don McPherson has spent 13 years studying color vision. Designing a lens that improved color discrimination for the colorblind was the first step. Understanding how the glasses helped people's color vision took a lot longer.
In normal color vision, blue, red and green photo pigments are separate. With colorblindness, red and green overlap, causing colors to become muddled.
"Our filter comes in and moves it back to normal position," McPherson said. "Now you're sending the correct information to the brain, and those neuromechanisms, which have been dormant their entire life, are suddenly activated."
Using CEO Andy Schmeder's mathematical modeling expertise and three NIH grants, EnChroma was born in 2010.
"In the world, there's an estimated 200 million to 300 million that have colorblindness," Schmeder said. "Right now, we've been able to help tens of thousands of those. It's such a tiny, tiny percentage."
Schmeder said he and and McPherson hope to bring color to many more people, especially children.