For people with colorblindness, fall foliage lacks its renowned rich hues. Tennessee is trying to change that, one autumn at a time.
In 2017, the state’s tourism board began installing scenic viewfinders with EnChroma lenses that alleviate red-green colorblindness in 12 lookouts around the state.
“There are over 13 million colorblind Americans who never get to experience something as beautiful as fall colors,” says Mark Ezell, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “We created 12 scenic viewers located in some of Tennessee’s most picturesque locations so that they could, for the first time, fully appreciate that beauty.”
Ezell says many people with colorblindness have an emotional experience when they look through the special viewfinders.
“Red was the biggest difference. I mean, I can’t describe it,” Tennessee local Lauren Van Lew told the Associated Press in 2019 after using one of the viewfinders at Mount Harrison. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That red, it’s just gorgeous. It’s incredible.”
And in a video from TNVacation, a man looking through a viewfinder for the first time is overcome with emotion as he says: “I’m glad to have seen it. I just wish I’d seen this all my life. Kind of like what I would imagine the difference between here and heaven.”
The coronavirus pandemic initially thwarted plans to install more of the viewfinders throughout the state. However, Ezell says Cares Act funding may get the expansion back on track.
“We had budget challenges,” Ezell says. “But it’s back on our list to try to move quickly and work with EnChroma, as we’re not only upgrading those lenses but [adding] some sites.”
Travelers can find the existing viewfinders using an interactive map on the state’s tourism board website. The viewfinders are placed all across the state, so Ezell recommends that colorblind travelers find the ones most conveniently located to them.
Despite the pandemic, Ezell thinks fall travelers will be drawn to Tennessee this year because the state has an abundance of outdoor attractions.
“It’s why we are so blessed in Tennessee,” Ezell says. “Whether it’s our 50,000 miles of streams or our hundreds of thousands of acres of lakes or our mountains, we’ve got 56 state parks. … There’s plenty of room to spread out with a natural social distancing.”
The hospitality industry has also reworked operations to welcome back tourists safely this fall.
“Whether somebody is choosing a cabin or a hotel or a campground, so many businesses across Tennessee have worked on those key things like extra sanitation, making sure people and employees are wearing masks, doing temperature checks and then using social distancing,” Ezell says. “We really feel good about the environment that we’re being able to encourage people to travel safely.”
According to the nonprofit organization Colour Blind Awareness, approximately 300 million people worldwide have some kind of colorblindness, from deuteranomaly — a reduced sensitivity to green light — to monochromacy — an absence of color completely.
Other initiatives are in place to bring colorful experiences to those with colorblindness.
Some museums and libraries in the United States, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the California Academy of Sciences and the St. Johns County Public Library System in St. Augustine, Fla., stock EnChroma glasses for visitors to wear during their visit.
Tennessee is the only state with designated fall foliage colorblind viewfinders, but Ezell hopes the concept spreads elsewhere.
“We would love for this to be available across the country if it helps folks,” he says.