It’s easy to take fall foliage views for granted, but a viewfinder program through Tennessee’s tourism board is aiding those with protanopia and protanomaly (known commonly as red-green colorblindness or red-blind) to fully take in this seasonal color spectrum.
Introduced in 2017, the viewfinders are equipped with EnChroma lenses that incorporate spectral notch band optical filters, which enhance separation between color channels so that people with red-green colorblindness can see these hues more clearly and distinctly.
Kent Streeb, EnChroma’s director of PR and partnerships, explained that colorblindness impacts the eyes’ photoreceptors — cells in the retina that respond to light and tell the brain what colors you see — by causing an overlap that makes them unable to distinguish shades such as red and green. “[The lenses] force a little bit more of a separation between that red and green overlap, so they’re getting a more accurate ratio of light. And then they see a broader spectrum of colors.”
According to the National Eye Institute, there is no cure for colorblindness, but special lenses and contacts can help.
Brian Wagner, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, said that implementing a scenic viewfinder that can showcase the state’s natural beauty seemed like a natural fit. “To know that we can take something the rest of us take for granted, and make that accessible for people who normally couldn't see that — that just takes it to the next level,” he said.
After holding a casting call for those with colorblindness to test the devices, the first three viewfinders were installed in November 2017 at Ober Gatlinburg, a mountainside amusement park, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Oneida, and the westbound Interstate 26 overlook near Erwin in Unicoi County. You can watch first-time viewfinder users experience the beauty of Tennessee’s fall colors in this video.
Expanded two years later, the program now includes 12 stationary viewfinder locations statewide. Wagner anticipates that the tourism board will continue to work with EnChroma to set up additional viewfinders in more locations.
The Berkeley, California, eyewear company is providing its technology to viewfinders in other states, too, with plans to add them in Sanibel Island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon’s Mount Hood, and Amicalola Falls State Park in northeast Georgia.
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