THere are some everyday situations in which 24-year-old Mason Sulic is struggling. He can’t always read graphs, charts or maps very well. The red curving line that warns you of spelling mistakes looks different to him. Choosing colors of pencil or clothes is always a gamble, as well as trying to get enough ripe fruit in the supermarket.
Like about one in 12 men and one in 200 women, Sulic has red-green color blindness – or, more precisely, color vision deficiency – which makes it difficult to distinguish certain shades and reduces the total number of colors he can see. . Today, however, his vision is undergoing a temporary but radical transformation.
At the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney, Sulich is trying on a pair of vision-enhancing glasses that promise to help him see in a fuller range of colors. What was once a dull gray will reveal itself as a pink blush. Details that were previously too blurred to stand out in the picture – individual floorboards, sharpness around the rock – come into focus.
“Water and a necklace are completely different with glasses,” he told the Guardian Australia, looking at a 1881 work by Nicolas Chevalier called South Sea Beauty, in which a woman relaxes in a boat. Sulic calmly slides his glasses up and down his nose, comparing the view through the lenses and without them. “The water looks very different – it becomes a cooler color, but also more vibrant. The trees stand out more. Without glasses, everything somehow gets mixed up. ”
Usually paintings like this appear on Sulic in a more boring range of shades, reducing their details. But with glasses, the nuances sharpen and stand out, and the objects become more defined. For someone who usually sees only 1% of the normal color range, this is a new experience.
It’s weird, he laughs. When you are used to seeing colors in a certain way, says Sulic, sudden change can bring you discomfort. It’s easier to stick to what you know.
He also wonders how much he can believe his own eyes.
“I’m not sure [the painting] “It’s the ‘right’ color that normal people see, but it’s different,” he said. “For me, the grass is green, but I don’t know what someone else’s color looks like. Whether I see it as a completely different color, I’m never entirely sure. “
The Chau Chak Wing Museum recently became the first museum or gallery in Australia to offer color-correcting glasses to guests like Suljic, presenting them for free since April.
“I think accessibility should be key, especially in cultural and art institutions,” said Jane Togersen, the museum’s curator. “[These glasses] allow people with color blindness to experience the museum and exhibitions as intended. And it’s such an easy way to do it. “
The glasses, created by an American company called Enchroma, are part of a growing wave of technological innovations aimed at improving the vision of people with color blindness. There has been little but significant progress in recent years, with Apple allowing users to navigate their iPhones with color-correcting filters or video games such as Grand Theft Auto, which introduce color-blind modes.
But not every colorblind person will benefit from wearing a pair of glasses. Enchroma says their glasses are effective for eight out of 10 people with red-green color blindness, but will not work at all for those with the less common blue-yellow color blindness or the very rare full color blindness. Price can be another barrier: the glasses retail for between $ 299 and $ 514 apiece, with different pairs needed indoors and outdoors.
The glasses are also not a silver bullet – wearing sunshades, Sulic could not pass an online test for color blindness, known as Ishihara. Even with technology like this, Sulic is still unable to join the New South Wales or Victoria Police Force, which he has long hoped to do – none of which currently allow people with color blindness to continue applying for jobs.
For Sulic, who wanders around the museum, the glasses make a “drastic” difference – but do not provoke a very emotional response.
“Seeing different colors is a huge change. It looks a lot better, “he says.” But it’s not like those people-responsive videos where they see something for the first time and start crying. “
In the end, however, he is glad that the technology exists.
“Looking at the painting with glasses, it definitely takes the art in a new light,” says Sulic. He will return his glasses and will soon return to seeing the world as usual. But it’s good to know that a fuller color gamut is possible – even if it looks a little strange.