Viewfinders unveil Tennessee fall colors for the colorblind

GATLINBURG, Tenn | Even when the rugged expanses of the Great Smoky Mountains were bursting with their famous fall colors, they always looked dull black and tawny to Lauren Van Lew from the 3,590-foot-high perch of Mt. Harrison.

 

For the 20-year-old Van Lew, who has been colorblind her whole life, some colors have just been left to the imagination. She loves painting, but her wife Molly has to help her pick and mix colors.

Last week, however, when Van Lew visited the scenic mountaintop again and looked through a special viewfinder, for the first time she saw yellows, oranges and reds exploding across the landscape.

“Red was the biggest difference. I mean, I can’t describe it,” said Van Lew, who lives in Sevierville, Tenn. “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?”

The colorblind viewfinder installed atop the Ober Gatlinburg resort by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development will be one of three in the state, letting people gaze upon colors they may have never seen before. The other two viewfinders are at scenic areas of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Oneida, and at the westbound Interstate 26 overlook near Erwin in Unicoi County.

Although the technology isn’t new – eyeglasses that let colorblind people see colors are already available – state officials believe this is the first time it’s been incorporated into a viewfinder, at a cost of $2,000 apiece, to help people with red-green color deficiencies. How crisply the viewfinders display new colors can vary from person to person among the 13 million or so people in the country with color deficiencies.

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

Their first glimpses drew tears, smiles, and faces stunned by wonder and awe.

“My heart just started beating fast,” said Todd Heil, who generally sees a lot of green.

 

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