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Videos: Color blind creator of popular Christmas light show can finally see display in its full glory

Effect of colorblind glasses (KK99LIUC/WikiCommons)

Reds and greens are the signature colors most people associate with the Christmas season, but for Mark Harnishfeger, it’s mustard brown and matte gray.

Those are the colors he sees when looking at those particular shades.

The 52-year-old creator of one of Bucks County’s most elaborate, and popular, home holiday lights displays is color blind, a vision impairment that affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women worldwide.

It means that Harnishfeger has never been able to fully appreciate his electric eye candy that resembles a fireworks display set to music. It attracts hundreds of visitors to his Middletown street during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Until Thursday night. That is when he was surprised with two pairs of special glasses designed to correct his red-green color blindness.

The early Christmas gift was from its California manufacturer, EnChroma. The company read about the elaborate community light display Harnishfeger creates each year, though he couldn’t fully appreciate it, and reached out to his family.

Harnishfeger has red-green color blindness, the most common type of the relatively rare vision impairment. Those who have it see 20,000 to 100,000 shades of color compared to more than 1 million shades for people with normal vision, EnChroma spokesman Kent Streeb said.

What reds and greens they see are more muted and washed out. Reds resemble brown-yellow. Greens look grayish. Purples appear blue.

“People don’t realize how the colorblind see the world,” Streeb said. “It’s pretty shocking. Most people simply do not realize how bland and gray the world can look.”

Harnishfeger has the more rare type of red-green colorblindness, Protan, which impacts 25% of those with the vision impairment.

The EnChroma glasses have a special lens designed to change color perception. In 2018, University of Granada study of EnChroma lenses showed they enhance color discrimination in persons with color blindness since the colored filter altered the way colors appeared in their eyes

Harnishfeger’s son Justin, 20, has helped his dad for years with color designs in the display, which is programmed on a computer using special sequencing software. Justin and his brothers, Ryan and Andy are not color blind.

EnChroma contacted Justin and his brother through Facebook after reading about the Colonial Drive lights display where Harnishfeger revealed his vision impairment.

The brothers and their mom, Renee, kept the gift a secret. They managed to trick Harnishfeger into taking a test to determine which type of color blindness he had.

Renee Harnishfeger described her husband’s disability as inconvenient. He can’t tell the difference between Equal and Sweet N’ Low by the packets. Board game pieces are also a challenge.

“Now you don’t have to ask, ‘What color is this?'” she joked Thursday night at the big reveal.

Harnishfeger’s initial reaction to the glasses was, much like his color vision, muted.

He tried corrective lenses once before and they didn’t make a big difference, he said, though he didn’t know if they were designed for his more rare type of color blindness.

He stood in his driveway facing his house, slipped on the glasses, which resemble sunglasses, then lifted them up several times.

“You see anything?” Justin asked. “Give it time. It can take up to 30 seconds to.”

After a minute or so, Harnishfeger said he could see a difference.

“Reds are a little brighter. A little deeper. Yeah, it’s definitely standing out more. Wow. Very nice,” he said. “The reds are definitely standing out more, greens are standing out more. There is definitely a difference.”

His response was the best gift his family could get.

“I’m glad you can see what everyone sees with your lights display,” Justin said.

Normal color vision is known as trichromacy-tri because it uses all the three type of cones correctly allowing us to see so many brilliant colors.

Red-Green color blindness

There are 4 types of red-green color blindness, which are primarily caused by recessive genes in the X chromosome:

Deuteranomaly is the most common type of red-green color blindness. It makes green look more red. This type is mild and doesn’t usually get in the way of normal activities.

Protanomaly makes red look more green and less bright. This type is mild and usually doesn’t get in the way of normal activities.

Protanopia and deuteranopia both make you unable to tell the difference between red and green at all.

Blue-yellow color blindness

This less-common type of color blindness makes it hard to tell the difference between blue and green, and between yellow and red.

There are 2 types of blue-yellow color blindness:

Tritanomaly makes it hard to tell the difference between blue and green, and between yellow and red.

Tritanopia makes you unable to tell the difference between blue and green, purple and red, and yellow and pink. It also makes colors look less bright.

Complete color blindness

You can’t see colors at all. This is also called monochromacy, and it’s quite uncommon. Depending on the type, you may also have trouble seeing clearly and you may be more sensitive to light.

To find out what it’s like to be color blind, check out the Chromatic vision simulator app at asada.website/webCVS/

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(c) 2020 Bucks County Courier Times

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