Napa student can now see colors for the first time

June 13, 2017
Napa Valley Register

Until a few weeks ago, Brandon Ontell had never seen a real blue sky, red rose or green grass.

That’s because Ontell, 15, is color blind.

“To me, blue and purple are the same color, red and brown are the same and green and orange sometimes look the same,” explained the ninth grade New Tech High School student.

 But thanks to some generous friends and a very special pair of eyeglasses from a company called Enchroma, Ontell is now seeing with flying colors.

Earlier this month Ontell’s school friends surprised him by presenting their classmate with a pair of high-tech glasses. Using color vision science and optical technology, the Enchroma glasses allow Ontell to see colors he’d never seen before, or even knew existed.

The eyewear definitely opened Ontell’s eyes.

“It’s a whole new world,” he said.

Being color deficient, as it is called, isn’t completely disabling, but “it gets really hard at times,” Ontell said.

Some aspects of schoolwork are a challenge, said Ontell.

Trying to give accurate descriptions or explain certain things can also be a problem.

Sometimes kids would tease him, he admitted. “I felt I was different.”

To get by, he relies on family, teachers and students to help with color-specific assignments.

As he’s gotten older, “I’ve learned to cope with it,” said Ontell, but he was starting to wonder about how his color blindness would impact getting his driver’s license or what kind of career he’d go into.

He’d heard of the Enchroma glasses but hadn’t figured out if they were something that would work for him or not. Plus, with a price tag of $350, it would be an expensive experiment.

Ontell said he supposed something was up when his friends started quizzing him about his vision.

New Tech student Jose Martinez put up the money to order the glasses for his friend.

Martinez recalled a time at school when Ontell was painting a picture of the sky. His friend didn’t realize he was using both blue and purple paint.

“Brandon has always helped me,” said Martinez. “I felt bad he couldn’t see the colors right.”

Using money from his first paycheck at a new job at Azzurro Pizzeria, Martinez decided to surprise his friend. Almost a dozen other students agreed to chip in to help cover the $350 purchase.

About a week later, the students surprised him with a bunch of colorful balloons and the glasses.

Ontell said that when he saw the Enchroma logo on the balloons, “My heart started pounding.”

Holding the gift, “I just stared at the box, not even opening it,” he said. “When I finally put them on, I was on the verge of straight-up crying. It was just amazing.”

Wearing his new glasses, Ontell immediately began discovering “new” colors.

“That day in PE was the first day I ever played on green grass,” he said. At school “we have these roses that I thought were just gray,” he said. “It turns out they are pink.”

“Now people ask me what color something is and I can describe it with confidence.”

Ontell is completely deserving of such a gift, said New Tech Principal Riley Johnson.

“He’s just someone who always puts others first.” Academically and personally, “he’s very respectful and respected.”

According to the Enchroma website, color blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. The condition ranges from a variety of classes, red-green color blindness being the most common.

Most people who suffer from color blindness are not blind to color, but have a reduced ability to see them. Color blindness is also called Color Vision Deficiency.

Color Vision Deficiency can be acquired, but most cases are inherited genetically. The genes that influence the colors inside the eyes, called “photopigments,” are carried on the X chromosome. If these genes are abnormal or damaged, color blindness occurs.

Color blindness does run in his family, said Ontell.

“Almost all the guys on my mom’s side have it,” he said. An uncle, who happens to be a year younger than Ontell and who is also color blind, has already asked to try on the glasses.

Ontell said he’s more than willing to share.

“I want to pay this good deed forward and get him a pair,” said Ontell.

As for the group of friends who each chipped in to give him the gift of color, Ontell could hardly say how appreciative he is.

“It’s something I will forever be grateful for.”

There’s also one other benefit of his new vision, said Ontell.

Before getting his Enchroma glasses, Ontell always told people his favorite color was yellow, only because it was the one color he felt most confident identifying.

Now, Ontell’s thinking he’ll choose a new favorite.

“I can’t wait until I relearn all the colors,” he said.