‘Total Sensory Overload’: Video of student seeing color for first time goes viral
Freshman Thomas Wartzack had never seen the warm orange glow of a setting sun or the inviting pinks and purples of blossoming spring flowers. But on a beautiful afternoon last week, Wartzack put on the most important pair of sunglasses he would ever own and opened his eyes to colors he once struggled to imagine.
Developed by the company EnChroma, the sunglasses use high-tech optics to filter out the region of the color spectrum where red and green overlap, “enhancing color before it reaches the eye” and completely transforming the lives of those with a red-green vision deficiency.
After discovering the EnChroma Cx sunglasses on a colorblind subreddit page this past December, Wartzack was initially skeptical, unwilling to believe such a simple product could potentially fix his lifelong color deficiency. But after reading numerous positive product reviews and comments, he finally decided to purchase the nearly $400 sunglasses.
They arrived in the mail last Tuesday.
“It’s hard to describe what I felt when I put them on,” Wartzack says. “To experience my color deficiency for 19 years and know it’s incorrect but never [see] the correct vision—and then suddenly see what everyone’s been talking about—it was just really intense. I don’t think I talked for a while.”
Willing to authentically document his experience, Wartzack asked his friend Sarah Bush to help film his first trial on the Center for the Arts Green. Bush says she was honored to be part of such a monumental moment in her friend’s life.
“It was magical,” Bush says. “To share a moment like that with someone—it’s pretty intimate and special, so it was really sweet.”
In the video, Wartzack is seen putting on the glasses and taking in his surroundings, noticing the stark contrast between nearby red brick and green grass for the first time. It was a moment he describes as “total sensory overload.”
“I knew a camera was going and people were going to see this, but I just kind of shut everything out,” he says. “Not intentionally—but everything was kind of suddenly so different.”
Wartzack posted the video to his Facebook page, anticipating a handful of likes and comments from close friends and family members. Within hours, however, the video had gained unexpected attention from friends and acquaintances, as well as total strangers.
One week later, the video currently has more than 17,500 views, 600 likes and 200 shares.
“It was a little intimidating,” he says. “But if this is spreading awareness and more people can experience what I have experienced, it’s totally worth it.”
Colorblind since birth, Wartzack realized the extent of his deficiency in first grade after using a green crayon to color in a person’s skin. He was eventually diagnosed with severe protanopia as well as tritanopia.
For Wartzack, this means that earthy colors like red, green, yellow and orange appear as one hue, which he always referred to as “green.” Cooler colors like blue, purple and pink also look the same, a color he called “blue.”
Colorblindness or color vision deficiency affects approximately one in 12 men and one in 200 women in the world. Wartzack says his 14-year-old brother Luke has already developed the red-green deficiency, while his 17-year-old brother Noah is unaffected.
Wartzack says his inability to share in the innate bond that most “color-seeing” people have with each other can almost make him feel like an outsider. Small tasks that others accomplish with ease often pose problems for him.
Wartzack has only gone clothes shopping on his own once, leaving empty-handed because he lacked confidence in the color of his desired purchase. As a computer engineering major, he also struggles with colored graphs and color-coding wires, relying on his friends and classmates for the correct information.
“I know it’s technically a disability, but I never see it as that,” he says. “I know I could never be a pilot. I could never be a fashion designer or a painter. But as far as typing code, it’s never really affected me. It’s not like I can’t be an engineer because I can’t see colors.”
Since his life-changing encounter with color, Wartzack says he uses the glasses every chance he can get. They work best in the sunny outdoors, but cloudy days and indoor spots also look more colorful than they used to. Wartzack is simply enjoying every moment that he can step outside and see the world as he’s never seen it before.
“There was actually a warning that shipped with my glasses saying, ‘Don’t operate machinery or drive until you’re used to the presence of colors,’” he says. “I definitely get distracted more. Everything is just so new and different. Everything is so much more interesting now.”
While Wartzack learned the names of colors in elementary school, he was unable to correctly apply them to their corresponding hues. Now, with the help of his glasses, he can finally learn to identify the full spectrum—a task he’s more than willing to accomplish.
“I don’t have a favorite yet,” Wartzack says. “But I’m excited to find it.”