Seeing the Rainbow
New Enchroma Glasses Help Color Deficient Patrons
Because of the hard work and generosity of four Grand Blanc High School students, Flint provide color deficient visitors to the Flint Institute of Arts now can see the museum’s world-class collection without the barriers their condition presents.
As part of Grand Blanc High School’s LEAD class, students were asked to identify a way in which they could shape change in their community. Seniors Alexander Hargraves, Maliah Linn, Katelyn Stuck, and Breeann Zarzycki, chose a cause that on the surface may have appeared esoteric: color deficiency. Sometimes referred to as color blindness, color deficiency impacts over insert 300 million people worldwide, with the most prevalent type being red-green color deficiency. Breeann Zarzycki suggested building their project around the condition because she has an uncle with red-green color deficiency, so she was familiar with its obstacles. Ultimately, the group decided to focus its project on helping those with color deficiency see works of visual art in full color.
Upon further research, the students discovered Enchroma, which, according to its website, manufactures “the only specialty eyewear that alleviates red-green color blindness, enhancing colors without the compromise of color accuracy.” Worldwide, roughly 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are affected by some degree of color deficiency. The Enchroma website notes that those with color deficiency often have issues with describing or naming colors and tend not to see the definition between objects, as they don’t see the variance created by shades or highlights. For those impacted with the condition, this reduced scope can completely leave out certain colors. Visual art is a challenge for these individuals – but one the students tackled in hopes of helping others.
Teacher Todd Babiasz, who guided the group and several others in the Positivity Project, said that a consultant who visited his class to assess the feasibility of potential projects suggested possibly “rethinking” such an involved assignment. The group wasn’t swayed, in part because of the personal relationship Breann spoke of while pitching her idea to the class. The students contacted FIA Executive Director John Henry immediately, outlining their task, explaining their goals, and asking to meet. Henry was curious and, he admits, a little enthused, “The introductory email was so well-written, so heartfelt. I was very interested to meet with the students and see how we could facilitate such a worthwhile endeavor.”
In the meeting that followed, the students delineated their project and introduced Henry to the Enchroma glasses, which the group had already purchased through crowdfunding and other fundraising. Additionally, they accessed a phone app that demonstrated what someone with color deficiency sees when looking at the world. No longer an abstraction, the proposal came together. Under Henry’s guidance, a plan to test the glasses at the museum with real life volunteers was set, with the students supplying an excellent candidate: Clarence Garner, Superintendent of Grand Blanc Community Schools.
Affected by red-green color deficiency, Garner confessed that art museums had never held much interest for him, positing that his condition was likely the cause. He, along with Fenton Township Supervisor Bob Krug, who is also red-green deficient, met at the FIA for what all involved hoped was a successful run through. Fox 66 reporter Bill Harris, who had been covering the efforts of the Positivity Project for a larger story, was on hand to witness the men as each took a pair of glasses and proceeded into the museum’s galleries, surrounded by the students, their parents, their teacher, and FIA staff. The effect of the glasses was instantaneous. “It changes your whole perspective,” said Krug. “I didn’t even know what I was missing. It’s like someone turned on a lightbulb.”
Garner’s experience was equally profound. Looking through the glasses at painting after painting brought him “a sense of peace.” He and Krug moved through the museum’s largest galleries, examining works large and small, discussing the newly discovered complexity the glasses allowed them to see. Each agreed that the technology, which allowed them to not only see colors previously unseen but depth and dimension as well, opened up visual art in a way they never expected. The glasses, both men agreed, provided the most satisfying art museum experience of their lives.
The visit was equally stirring for those connected to the project. Following Garner and Krug through the museum’s hallways, Babiasz smiled. “It’s rewarding to see Clarence (Garner) using the glasses, seeing something in a whole new way. This is what this project can do for the students and for their community. I’m just so proud of what’s been accomplished.” Henry expressed similar sentiments, “What these students have done, each step of the way, is beyond inspiring. Their hard work and generosity has paid off tenfold, now and for years to come. Having these glasses at the FIA, ready for visitors who never dreamed of being able to experience visual art fully, is an extraordinary resource. We’re thankful to have been part of their learning process.”
Three pairs of glasses, two purchased by the students and one purchased by the museum, are available free of charge to FIA visitors. The students presented Henry with a check collected from the additional funds raised, which the executive director said would be used to both promote the glasses to the public and purchase additional pairs in the future. He remarked that having the glasses at the ready was boon for not only art museums but countless other cultural institutions as well. “The marriage of cutting edge technology to our superlative collection of art and objects is a gift we can now share with a greater section of the public. Take my word for it, these glasses change lives.”