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A colorblind Tacoma teen sees new colors for the first time

Eli Robinson enjoys colorful glass at Tacoma's Museum of Glass, with his new EnChroma sunglasses. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Glass)

Thirteen-year-old Tacoma middle school student Eli Robinson is colorblind.

“For me, the hardest thing to do is tell blue and purple apart,” he said. “Red and green and brown mesh together a lot. I can usually tell orange if it’s really bright.”

Eli’s mom, Mary Boone, said she began to notice something was up when he was in kindergarten.

“It was when we would go see his coloring on the wall at school and it looked so different from everybody else’s,” she explained. “The sky would be orange and the grass would be brown and I just thought, well, it’s kind of it’s sad, he’s going through some goth phase already. And then I remember we had a car for quite a long time and he made some comment about, ‘I can’t believe we have this green car, it’s so hideous.’ And it was brown. And we kinda went, hmmm, there may be something more to this.”

Eli says it mostly doesn’t bother him. He can’t miss what he never had. However, it can impact some parts of life.

“I play soccer,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t tell the difference in jersey color. My soccer coach actually just found out about that a few weeks ago, so now he can’t really get mad at me when I pass it to the wrong team.”

Then the family discovered EnChroma, special tinted glasses that allow 80 percent of colorblind people to see the full spectrum of colors.

Eli entered a contest and he won a pair for himself. The glasses arrived Thursday night, and on Friday morning I met Eli and Mary at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, where Eli wanted to try the glasses for the first time.

“I’m excited because I’m never going to look at the world the same once I put them on,” Eli said.

Before he put them on, I had Eli describe the colors he saw on a piece of art in the museum’s lobby.

“Um, it kind of looks gray,” he said. “This is orange or red. Up there, I’m guessing it’s blue because it’s the sky.”

Then he slipped them on. The eyes can sometimes take 15 to 30 minutes to adjust to the glasses, but Eli saw colors immediately.

“Never seen blue that bright. It’s, like, really clear to me.”

How does he feel?

“I don’t know. My brain is in a lot of places right now.”

He walked through the museum, pointing at glass and guessing the colors.

“Now I’m going to have to relearn every color, I guess. Is that yellow? I don’t know what it is because I don’t know what to call that color. Purple? So that’s what purple looks like!”

He was especially intrigued by purples and for the first time he saw that colors have shades, ranging from light to dark.

“I know he’s way more excited than he’ll let on because it’s not cool to be excited when you’re 13,” Mary said. “But you can tell just the way he’s looking around at everything; it’s brighter, it’s clearer, it’s more vibrant. I think it’s going to change everything.”

Eli has a list of things he wants to see with the glasses: sunsets, rainbows and his bright green bedroom walls that he has always seen as dark gray. But his first hour seeing colors made for a pretty exciting day.

“It was awesome because now I get to see everything, I guess, how other people see it. I don’t feel left out anymore, I guess. It’s just awesome. I was really surprised how different blue and purple are.”

For more information on the EnChroma glasses, click here.

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