A Microsoft app to help the colour blind better see their world

‘Colour Binoculars’ makes life simpler for those with the condition to distinguish between colours.

Colour Blindness

Globally, colour blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD) affects nearly 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. Among those with the condition, approximately 75 per cent have trouble distinguishing the colour green. It’s not that they don’t see them – in fact, most colour blind people can see them if they’re bright. But if they’re dull or muted in some way, it becomes a little harder to tell the colours apart.

Often accompanying the condition is a set of frustrating limitations that can have harmful consequences. Trouble with identifying the colour at a traffic light can sometimes make driving dangerous, sufferers frequently mismatch clothing items, and the inability to tell when meat is cooked through can result in illness. A new app developed by Microsoft researchers ‘Colour Binoculars’ could put a pin in some of these issues.

“It’s an app that helps colour-blind people distinguish colour combinations that they would normally have trouble telling apart,” explains Tom Overton, a colour blind Microsoft engineer who helped develop the app. “For example, since I have difficulty distinguishing between red and green, our app makes reds brighter and greens darker so that the difference is more obvious. It replaces difficult colour combinations, like red and green, with more easily distinguishable combinations, like pink and green.”

Colour Blindness

If colour blind, people often can't tell apart wavelengths of light. What the Colour Binoculars app does is use special filters and your iPhone camera to make a clear distinction between different colours. According to the creators, the app would allow users to pick out flowers, choose matching clothes, and differentiate between alerts on their cellphone screens.

Refreshingly simple, the app offers users three viewing modes: Red/Green, Green/Red and Blue/Yellow. There’s also an option to turn off the colour correction, so you can easily switch between what you normally see and what a non-colour blind person would see and contrast. The app offers support for various types of colour blindness and purposefully does not allow for taking photos so as to maintain its purpose as a colour window rather than becoming another photo filtering app.

“For me at least, it’s such a personal project,” Overton says. “I showed it off to my family. I have a cousin who is also colour blind, and he really enjoyed it. Also, when I’m cooking and I need to brown meat, I can bust it out so I can tell when it’s not pink anymore!”

The Colour Binoculars app is now available for free download on iOS.