Travel Yukon makes northern lights more accessible to people with colour blindness

The EnChroma glasses, as seen here in Whitehorse on Oct. 28, 2022, use special optical filters to expand the range of colours that someone with colour blindness can see and make them more vibrant. The glasses are free to use for travelers who have vision deficiency following a partnership between Travel Yukon and EnChroma.  (Virginie Ann/ CBC News - image credit)

Vivid skies of the Yukon have captivated people for centuries with northern lights, and the stunning natural phenomenon is about to become even more accessible.

Travel Yukon has partnered with EnChroma, an American company that makes glasses to help people who have vision deficiency, see the entire rainbow of colours. The unique collaboration is offering travelers with colour blindness the chance to borrow a pair of glasses to fully witness the northern lights.

Robin Anderson, the global marketing manager at Travel Yukon, told CBC News that the initiative is part of a development and barrier-free strategy to make the territory more accessible and inclusive.

"If you haven't seen pink, or turquoise, or green, how do you describe northern lights," Anderson said.

"People with colour blind challenges can see something happening in the sky, but don't necessarily know the beauty of that colour...We don't want anybody left behind and the Yukon is probably a destination where people think they have to...have certain physical abilities."

Virginie Ann/CBC News
Virginie Ann/CBC News

As of this fall, several pair of EnChroma's glasses are available — free to use — at the Yukon Visitor Information Centre in Whitehorse. Some tour operators that offer northern lights viewing will also be able to request a pair whenever they have a client with vision deficiency, Anderson added.

"We hope that people who maybe thought they couldn't see the northern lights because they are colour blind will make the trip up, and enjoy it," he said.

EPIC NORTH Tour Experiences is one of these tourism companies that can provide the glasses for clients in Whitehorse. Owner Tobias Barth said in a recent interview that he's been noticing an increase in potential clients inquiring about the glasses over the phone in the last months.

"It's a big game changer," Barth said. "We have the opportunity to provide a better experience and this give us a good feeling. They see something they probably would have never seen!"

The glasses, which were originally launched in 2010 in the United States before they gained traction, use special optical filters to expand the range of colours and make them more vibrant, EnChroma CEO Erik Ritchie explained.

"It works for about 80 per cent of people who have red and green colourblindness," he said. "But for most people, it improves their lives, their ability to see colours."

According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, colour deficiency is more common in males than females, with one in 10 males having a colour deficiency — most often on reds and greens.

Ritchie said while EnChroma is now well-versed in partnering with tourism associations across the world, discussions around people with disabilities were not part of countries' development strategy a few years ago.

"We had to talk to institutions, and to use texture, patterns, that would allow someone who is colour blind to see the difference," he said, adding the collaboration with Travel Yukon is the biggest one in Canada.

Virginie Ann/CBC News
Virginie Ann/CBC News

EnChroma is also selling the glasses as part of the partnership. Ritchie said for every pair that are purchased, a free one will be given out to a public institution in the Yukon.

"By letting more people know about it, the more people learn about it...understand how big of an issue that it is, that the lives of people that are colour blind will improve."