Viewfinders unveil fall colors for the colorblind
Viewfinders unveil fall colors for the colorblind This Oct. 26, 2017 photo shows Amber McCarter, a 22-year-old from Tennessee who is colorblind, looking out from Mt. Harrison at the Ober Gatlinburg resort through a viewfinder designed to help see more colors. (AP Photo/Jonathan Matisse/Flickr)
Viewfinders unveil fall colors for the colorblind
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The Great Smoky Mountains always looked dull black and tawny to Lauren Van Lew. This was from the 3,590-foot-high perch of Mt. Harrison. That was true even when the rugged expanses were bursting with their famous fall colors. 

Van Lew is 20 years old. She has been colorblind her whole life. Some colors have just been left to the imagination. She loves painting. Her wife Molly has to help her pick and mix colors.

Last week Van Lew visited the scenic mountaintop again. She looked through a special viewfinder. For the first time she saw yellows. She saw oranges. And she saw reds. They were exploding across the landscape.

"Red was the biggest difference. I mean, I can't describe it," said Van Lew. She lives in Sevierville. It is Tennessee. "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life. That red, it's just gorgeous. It's incredible."

She wondered, "How do you see like that all of the time?"

A colorblind viewfinder was installed atop the Ober Gatlinburg resort. It was installed by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. It is one of three in the state. They debuted last Wednesday. It lets people gaze upon colors that they may have never seen before. The other two viewfinders are at scenic areas. One is at the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. It is near Oneida. The other is at the westbound Interstate 26 overlook. It is near Erwin. It is in Unicoi County.

The technology isn't new. It consists of eyeglasses that let colorblind people see colors. But state officials believe this is the first time it's been used in a viewfinder. They a cost $2,000 each. They help people with red-green color deficiencies. How crisply the viewfinders display new colors can vary from person to person. About 13 million people in the country with color deficiencies.

State tourism officials invited people to try it out last Thursday. They were at Ober Gatlinburg. They brought them up by ski-lift. They left the details somewhat vague. They wanted to maintain the element of surprise. A crew filmed their reactions for marketing material.

Their first glimpses drew tears. They drew smiles. Faces showed wonder and awe.

"My heart just started beating fast," said Todd Heil. He generally sees a lot of green. "I felt like crying, man. Too many people around."

Amber McCarter works in real estate. Part of her pitch is the fall foliage that drapes the Great Smoky Mountains. But, she can't entirely see it herself. The viewfinder gave her a firsthand look of the views she's been selling.

"It's like, if you want to go see a show somewhere, you don't want to hear from somebody whose family went. You want to hear from somebody who actually went," the 22-year-old said.

For Van Lew, nothing looks the same now. It can be a little disheartening to know what she's been missing. But the possibility of tapping into a long unseen world of vibrant color is uplifting, she added.

"It's going to enable more people to experience the beauty that we live in, that I didn't know we lived in," she said.

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Why are leaves a good subject for viewfinder?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • jordans-hol3
    10/11/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    It's a good subject because leaves are many different colors and there are many different kinds. There are so many leaves to look at!

  • thomass-hol4
    10/11/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    Leaves can be many colors. They make trees pretty in the fall because of the color the leaves are in the fall.

  • ellab-hol2
    10/11/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    leaves are a good subject for a viewfinder because the fall colors are very important to the season fall. We associate brown and oranges with the season, therefore a viewfinder is good to study the leave with because the blind can visualize the colors of fall.

  • graciej-hol
    10/11/2019 - 09:16 a.m.

    because there are so many different colors of leaves and they're neutral so the colors aren't overwhelming.

  • johnc-hol1
    10/16/2019 - 09:12 a.m.

    they give people who cant see the ability to imagine the colors. The viewfinder helps them see the leaves.

  • bradyu-hol
    10/16/2019 - 09:18 a.m.

    Leaves are a good subject for viewfinder because leaves in the fall are beautiful. They consist of the colors reds, yellows, orange and more. they are a very bright color that may be hard for colorblind people to see the real thing. So they can look through that and see the real color of the bright leaves in Tennesse.

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