This national park has installed an amazing device to help colourblind people enjoy autumn
Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountain Range National Park, often referred to as the Smokies, is the most visited of its kind in the whole of the USA. Famous for its incredible views, world-class hiking, natural peaks and stunning waterfalls, it racked up over 11 million recorded visits in 2016 alone, almost twice the number of the Grand Canyon. Among the busiest and most beautiful times of year is autumn, when thick forests are transformed into a fiery carpet of yellows, reds and oranges and people flock from miles around to take in the changing of the seasons.
But for people afflicted with colour blindness, who are unable to distinguish between different hues in the same way as the rest of us, this magic can only be felt to such a small extent. That is, until now. This year, the national park has come up with its own solution to rectify this situation and help more people than ever to enjoy the spectacle that is Tennessee in the fall - by installing special scenic viewers that are equipped with the capability to bring the colours back to life.
Passed down through X chromosomes and therefore predominantly a male affliction, colour blindness, also known as colour vision deficiency, affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women globally. In America, this figure stands at an incredible 13 million people. Primarily caused by the way that light-sensitive rods in the eyes react to certain colours, the majority of those affected struggle with a red-green deficiency, although some also have trouble distinguishing blues and yellows. Rarer still, there are also people who see entirely in black, white and shades of grey.
The new devices are equipped with special lenses that counteract and alleviate the red-green deficiency and while the clarity and intensity of the correction will vary by person, but it is hoped that for many it will revolutionise the enjoyment that they get out of their visit to the Smokies. The technology behind it is the same currently used in colour blind glasses, but this is thought to be the first time it has been installed specifically with the goal of enhancing tourists' experiences in mind.
At $2000 per viewer, it represents a sizable investment, but in a press release the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development made it clear they believe it will be worth every last dollar: “To realize, through red/green deficiencies and other forms of colorblindness, there potentially are more than 13 million people in our country alone who cannot fully appreciate the beauty our state has to offer, we wanted to do something about that. We wanted to provide opportunities for more people to see what those of us who can may take for granted.”
And if a short video posted by the TDTD is anything to go by, then it would seem their efforts have not gone unappreciated. Many of those shown in the clip - who had no idea what was about to take place when they were taken to the mountain - broke down and expressed their awe upon their first glance of the stunning autumn scene before them: "I really feel like now I know why people come from miles and states around just to see, just to see this," one man said between the tears. Another, who "I'm glad to have seen it, I just wish I'd seen this all my life."
Of all the things we take for granted - our friends, our family, the food in our cupboards at the end of the day - sight has to be up there as the most frequently forgotten. Yet, colour blind individuals are just some of the millions of Americans have some form of vision problems; the National Eye Institute estimates that between 2010 and 2050 the number of people affected by the most common eye disorders will double. With this in mind, the race is on to develop solutions that will not only protect our optical health, but improve the lives of the visually impaired. Hopefully, innovative ideas such as this are only the beginning.