ATU458 – Enchroma Glasses with Kent Steeb

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

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Find out more: www.enchroma.com
Accessible Game Story: http://bit.ly/2SWSb0I

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Kent Steeb:
Hi, this is Kent Steeb and I am the director of public relations and partnerships for EnChroma. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis Indiana. Welcome to episode 458 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on March 6th, 2020. On today’s show we’re excited to have Kent Steeb on to talk about the EnChroma glasses and what they can do for individuals with colorblindness. Now let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Find a story over at gamesindustry.biz. It’s by Brendan Sinclair and it’s titled, “Accessible design and focusing on the gaps.” The story talks about a game made for the Xbox called HyperDot. And apparently the developer, Charles McGregor, when he was originally making it, wasn’t thinking anything about accessibility until one of his friends won a Tobii eye tracking device. And he started to use it and then he started to realize, “Hey, people might be using this to control this game. So I should really try to make my game more accessible to individuals with different kinds of needs.” And I really love it because if you’re trying and kind of playing with this, well now it’s got high contrast colorblind modes. It’ll work with the Xbox adaptive controller, a stylus, tilt touchscreens, all different kinds of things. But what I really like about this story is just how the person, the individual making it, had never really thought about accessibility until he got to use assistive technology.

Josh Anderson:
And when he used this assistive technology, he realized that, “Hey, I need to make this accessible for everyone.” So, it’s a really fun little story and it kind of goes through how that all kind of progressed. So, I won’t ruin it all for you, but I will put a link to that over in our show notes that you can check it out yourself. And just how sometimes just trying something out with assistive technology can make everything a little more accessible.

Josh Anderson:
Colorblindness affects a lot of individuals worldwide and can greatly impede how they see and interact with the world. There’s really been little to no technology to assist with this impairment. It wasn’t until the EnChroma glasses came out. Our guest today is Kent Steeb director of PR and partnerships for EnChroma. And he’s here to tell us about the technology and some other exciting technology that they have coming out. Kent, welcome to the show.

Kent Steeb:
Thank you, Josh. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I’m really excited to get into talking about EnChroma, but before we do that, could you tell our listeners just a little about yourself?

Kent Steeb:
Sure. I’m the director of public relations and partnerships for EnChroma. I’ve been with the company for about five years and part of my motivation for joining the company was a personal interest. My father is colorblind, so the topic intrigued me. And I came into the company thinking I knew all about colorblindness due to this familial affinity. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Josh Anderson:
I can’t wait to get into talking about that a little bit more, but let’s go ahead and find out, what are the EnChroma glasses?

Kent Steeb:
So, EnChroma has created the first science-based lens technology for colorblindness. Our mission is to enrich the visual experience for people with colorblindness as well as low vision. So, in addition to glasses for the colorblind, we recently unveiled a new line of glasses for people with low vision and age related eye conditions. And we’ve also expanded our lens technology to adapt scenic viewers so that colorblind people, when they go to state parks or wildlife refuges, other locations can enjoy the beauty and colors of nature as well.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. Well, I know that it all kind of started with the original kind of EnChroma colorblind glasses. Now, who can these actually help? I know there’s different kinds of colorblindness, is it specific to a certain kind?

Kent Steeb:
Good question. So, one in 12 men, 8%, and one in 200 women, a half of a percent, are colorblind. When you do the math, that comes to 350 million worldwide and it comes to about 13 million in the US. So, out of those people who are red, green colorblind, they represent 98% of the colorblind. Then there’s a very small percentage that are yellow, blue colorblind, and an even smaller percentage that are called chromatopes. And they basically see mostly in grays and shades of gray, but that’s pretty rare. So, EnChroma glasses address the predominant form of colorblindness in the world.

Josh Anderson:
And that definitely makes sense. And I’m glad you brought up the point about one in 12 men and one in 200 women. We have a couple of pairs of these glasses in our loan library, and I’ve done some presentations and talked about them, but it’s funny because I would say, “Is anyone in here colorblind that would like to try them out?” And I realized that there’s not one man in the audience. And I’m like, “Oh, never nevermind.’ But I wasn’t aware of that, but I did kind of find that out the hard way.

Kent Steeb:
That’s rather surprising. Often people say, “Oh, I don’t know of anybody who is colorblind,” especially in the media. And my immediate reaction is, throw a rock. You just don’t know, they don’t walk around advertising it for various reasons. But yeah, with 8% of men and a half a percent of women, once people start asking around, if they don’t think they know anybody who’s colorblind, they soon find out that they do. And we often do that with the media. When the media is interested in a story, we say, “Have somebody in your own media group, your own television station or newspaper, try it.” They often say they didn’t know of anybody. They send an email around and discover that there’s actually quite a few. And that’s one of the misunderstandings about colorblindness or the ignorance around it is, it is far more prevalent than most people realize.

Kent Steeb:
And part of that is because colorblind people, as I mentioned, they don’t walk around talking about it. And one of the reasons they don’t is because the first thing all the people they know with normal color vision do is they start quizzing them about what color this is, or what color that is. And then they react incredulous when they can’t identify a color like purple or pink or other colors. And this exhaust people who are colorblind. So, that’s one of the reasons they don’t really talk about it. The other reason is, there really, as you touched upon earlier, there really has not been anything to do about it. And so when they’ve gone to their eye care professional, they have been told, much like hair loss, baldness, just get used to it or find a work around.

Kent Steeb:
So, there’s several reasons why it is a little bit of this silent issue that is not more widely known and the prevalence as well.

Josh Anderson:
Kent, I know colorblindness can really affect folks in a lot of different ways. What’s a big kind of effective of colorblindness that you guys have seen?

Kent Steeb:
Yeah, good question. So, what we really want to emphasize, EnChroma really wants to emphasize awareness, accessibility and advocacy in the area of colorblindness. And what we’re really passionate about and disturbed by is that only 11 of 50 States in the US tests school children for color vision deficiency. So, the problem is you have kids sitting in class, 8% of boys and a half percent of girls, and they don’t know why they’re having an issue understanding certain information that contains colors. And a lot of materials in school are color coded.

Kent Steeb:
Whether it’s a teacher asking the child to take the purple blocks and add them to the orange blocks or red and green, or in charts in social studies maps colors are coded different colors based on the resources of the country. There’s lots of different ways from the K through 12 up into universities, where color vision deficiency, or colorblindness, can play a role. And we just think it’s a real crime that only 11 of 50 States test. And so, one of the elements that we’re really trying to push in 2020 is for school districts to test. From my own experience with my father, he was a chemical engineer. He did not realize that he was colorblind until after college. And he got a D in the chemistry class because when he dropped certain chemicals into the Bunsen burner, into the flame, he was supposed to know the colors that they turned in and gather certain information from that.

Kent Steeb:
And he couldn’t tell. He did not realize that he’s colorblind. And he got a bad grade in that. Well, if a younger student has that experience and gets a bad grade in a subject, they may not be as resilient as somebody in college or bounce back, or they may not pass the class. So, there’s lots of different ways and this is why we really think that schools should test. And that universities and schools should carry our glasses for colorblind students to borrow. And the good news is, some of those school districts and universities, we’ll be announcing some of them in the coming months, are going to be offering our glasses for this very reason. And the Roanoke school district in Virginia this year, based on the advocacy of the mother of a student, tested all 9,000 of the students in their district for colorblindness this year in partnership with the Lion’s Club, which as you probably know, is a huge advocate for vision issues in the US.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely. And I know that you guys have had some partnerships with some different kind of area libraries. Can you tell us about that?

Kent Steeb:
Sure. EnChroma recently launched our color accessibility program. And what we’re trying to do is we are trying to help public venues, such as libraries, museums, state and national parks, school districts, and universities acquire our glasses and make them available for colorblind people to come and borrow so that they can experience the attractions, the artwork, or better navigate some of the challenges in education that colorblindness can pose. So, through our color accessibility program, for every three pair a venue buys, we donate a pair. Or it comes out roughly to about 25% off if they purchase more. So, we started with museums, mostly. The Georgia O’Keeffe is in our program, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum of Design, Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago and Denver. There’s some in Europe and there’s many more coming on board.

Kent Steeb:
And the response from patrons has been really profound and moving for the staff of those venues, as well as of course, for the colorblind people to come in and be able to view art that may have appeared more drab and dull with colors muddling together. And to see them as vibrant and saturated and the colors distinct. So, moving on, we’re now working with libraries. And libraries are acquiring the EnChroma glasses and making them available to patrons to check out for a week or two. So, they can really spend some time with the glasses and understand all the different ways that the glasses can benefit them from the mundane everyday obstacles colorblindness can pose to just the aesthetics of life. Being able to see more of the shades in a rainbow, or the eye color or hair color of a loved one’s eyes, to being able to cook and tell when your meat is cooked. So, there’s just a variety of areas.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. And some of those things you don’t think of. It’s probably a pretty common misconception, but the folks I’ve known who are colorblind says really it’s the contrast that was a big thing. So, I could see how in, especially in art and you brought it up there, how drab it might look if you’re not seeing that stark contrast between maybe two colors or something. And it really, especially Georgia O’Keeffe, I could think of a lot of her paintings and how much different they would look if you weren’t able to have that contrast. So, it’s cool that those art museums are offering that to their patrons. So, they can really experience it just as somebody that wouldn’t have the colorblindness.

Kent Steeb:
Right. Absolutely. And it’s important for people to understand, the colorblind are not blind to color. They do see color. The difference for them is that people with standard color vision see over 1 million different hues and shades of colors. The colorblind see color, but they only see about two to 10% of that. So, their world is just much more muted and dull. “Everything kind of washes out,” they’ll tell you. So, if they look at green grass in a lawn, it may look kind of dead or grayish to them, they may see green, but it’s just kind of this monochromatic swath of one color. What they won’t see is that one piece of grass may be light green, another is dark green, another is brown green, lime green.

Kent Steeb:
They won’t see all that variation. And it’s the same way with lots of other things like a rainbow. And then they struggle with some of the everyday things like all the red and green is difficult for them to perceive. So, when they look at purple, they see blue, they don’t see purple. When they look at pink, they kind of see gray and on and on. When they look at red roses, they look brown or dead to them. So, there’s all these different areas where this diminished color spectrum and variation for them plays a role or just makes the world look a little more drab and colors hard to tell apart.

Josh Anderson:
Kind of moving on, can you tell us about the new EnChroma glasses for individuals with visual impairments? What kind of impairments can they help?

Kent Steeb:
Sure. So, there’s about 285 million people in the world who have some form of visual impairment and about 250 million of those qualifies quote unquote, low vision. So, as we age our eyes just degenerate. There’s cataracts, glaucoma macular degeneration, there’s a lot of age-related visual impairments. So, what our glasses do, our low vision line, we have four different types, they help reduce glare. Glare can be really disabling for people with low vision. They improve the contrast and they also enhance color vision. So, we make four different lenses with different transmissions and that can help people better navigate, better see things, better see the edges of objects, helps with their mobility, their safety, and it can just enhance their quality of life in general.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. I was excited to hear that those are going to be coming out. Are those available now or are those coming out soon?

Kent Steeb:
Those are available now. Right now, they’re available through the EnChroma authorized retailer network. We have about 300 retailers, optometrists, ophthalmologists, eye care professionals that offer our colorblind glasses and also offer the low vision line. And they will be available to the public to purchase on our website at enchroma.com as well.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Kent, can you tell me a story about someone who’s using the EnChroma glasses and just what kind of an impact it’s made on their lives?

Kent Steeb:
Yeah, absolutely. Some of your listeners may have seen videos that have gone viral of colorblind people experiencing EnChroma glasses for the very first time. Some of those can be very emotional. There’s a percentage of people that have an instant, powerful effect. Typically, the glasses take about five to 15 minutes to work for most people the first time. And then each time they wear them thereafter, that brain and eye acclamation timeframe shrinks until it’s instant. But there are so many people out there who send us these videos that they shoot at home on their phone with a loved one. And they want to share those experiences with us. So, it’s really rewarding for us at EnChroma to be in the position where, literally every day, a couple of these videos come in from around the world. But more specifically for your question, some specific stories.

Kent Steeb:
There was a guy who went to art school, he’s colorblind. He was always very diffident, lacking confidence that the choices he were making on colors were incorrect. He had a lot of anxiety that someone was going to tap him on the shoulder and say, “Why did you choose this color?” And it would not be the color he thought it was. And then to support himself when he went through art school, he was a blackjack dealer at a casino. And he worked every night in fear that he was going to give a patron the wrong color chip, especially green and red, which are easy to confuse, especially in the lighting at a casino. So, just has all this anxiety. And many colorblind people will relay anecdotes like this from their life, whether it was in school or some other aspect of not being confident in their color choices, whether it’s mismatching clothes. School, coloring something, quote unquote, wrong.

Kent Steeb:
So, this guy, he actually designs action figures for, I won’t say the names of the companies, but a couple of the biggest companies in movie franchises in the world. He asked other people for help and relies on programs that can tell him which color he’s choosing. But when he tried on the glasses, he literally burst into tears. And he just expressed, he said, “I feel like 30, 40 years of anxiety is washing away.” And we were at a flower store with some other colorblind people and he was just describing the nuances in the transitions in colors on the flowers like, “This color goes from purple to pink. And now I can see that inside the color, I can see that there are green stems.” He was just so overwhelmed with emotion and joy that a technology like this now exists that can help him with some of these things that caused him so much anxiety throughout his life. And in a field that he loves, art and color is so important to him.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And especially, and that’s something that’s a big thing on here, a big thing is that independence of not having to rely on someone else to help them out with that.

Kent Steeb:
Right. Absolutely. Because people will say, “Well, how do they know that red is red if they don’t see it?” It’s actually a deeper question than it sounds. That gets into how we perceive colors, but they develop associative powers. They know a stop sign is a certain saturation of red. They don’t see it as red like the rest of us do, they see it more as brown and if there’s any vegetation around that stop sign, they won’t see it. It’s difficult for them to see it. If they come to a stoplight, they’ve learned that the position of the green light is here and the position of the red light is here, at the bottom. But they often see them as white or whitish, especially depending on the ambient light at the time of day. So, they will rely on which light is lit as opposed to the actual color.

Kent Steeb:
So, there’s all these different ways that they find to adapt and often identify a color. If their favorite sports team is the Minnesota Vikings, so they know that’s purple or the LSU Tigers, they know that’s purple, but they don’t actually see it as purple. And they can identify if they get really close to it and there’s really good lighting, but they really see it as blue. So, they just kind of find ways to work around it. And there’s plenty of people who are super successful who are colorblind. Mark Zuckerberg is color blind, Bill Gates, Prince William, Mark Twain was colorblind Neil young. There’s plenty of extremely successful people who have not been limited. But they may have had to make adjustments or maybe some of those people were meant to be artists and had a negative experience somewhere as a child and decided art wasn’t their thing.

Josh Anderson:
No, I think you might be right there. Kent, if our listeners would want to find out more or even order kind of their own EnChroma glasses, how would they do?

Kent Steeb:
Yeah, good question. Thanks for asking. So, if any of your listeners wanted to order EnChroma glasses, they can go to enchroma.com, E-N-C-H-R-O-M-A.com. And they can buy the glasses there. First, they would start by taking our colorblindness test at the top. It takes about a minute and a half, and it’s the most widely used online colorblindness test in the world. It will tell them whether they’re colorblind, and then it will tell them which type of colorblindness they have. Within red, green colorblind there’s two types deutan and protan. And they both struggle with red and green, but to different degrees. And then it will tell them whether their condition is mild, moderate, or strong. And using that information, they can reference our landscape guide and select the lens that’s best for them. And whether they want to wear the glasses indoors or outdoors, or they would need to buy one of each of those lenses for both environments. Each lens works in a specific environment. If the glasses don’t deliver what they expected, they have 60 days to return them minus the shipping costs.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, nice. So, they can really kind of make sure that they kind of work just in case maybe their colorblindness is a little different and it doesn’t help them, they can still return those. That’s really good.

Kent Steeb:
Yeah. The other thing I’d like to mention is, previously I mentioned we have a retailer network of over 300 retailers. So, if they go to our website and click on, “look for a retailer,” they can find one near them or they can go and try the glasses physically, if they wanted to go about it that way.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, nice. So, kind of like being fitted almost for them.

Kent Steeb:
Exactly. And they could try, they can see if they’re going to buy one pair. They could see whether they prefer the indoor, the outdoor. Yeah. So, they can get fitted properly and walk through trying the glasses.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Yeah, that’d be a great way to be able to try them out, like you said, figure out which ones will really meet their needs the best. Well, Kent Steeb, thank you so much for coming on today and talking about the EnChroma glasses and all the different things that they have to offer and all the folks that they’ll be able to help.

Kent Steeb:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Josh, and thank you for your interest in the issue of colorblindness and our technology, as well as our low vision line.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATAproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assisted Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host, or the INDATA project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.