New Viewfinder Helps Colorblind Visitors Experience the Smoky Mountains

Breathtaking fall foliage near Gatlinburg.

Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains are home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. Featuring majestic peaks and picturesque valleys, the Smokies are especially stunning during the autumn months, when the mountains come alive with vivid orange, red, and yellow leaves. Unfortunately, visitors to East Tennessee who suffer from colorblindness have never had the chance to experience the full splendor of the Smoky Mountains.

A new project from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development aims to change this. The department recently installed a high-tech viewfinder at the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area & Amusement Park that is designed to correct the vision of people with red-green colorblindness. Visit My Smokies has all the details on how this new viewfinder is providing colorblind visitors with a life-changing experience.

Watch Colorblind People See the Fall Foliage for the First Time

To promote the new initiative, tourism officials invited colorblind people to try the viewfinder and filmed their reactions. You can watch the extraordinary video below:

As you can see in the video, witnessing the fall foliage in its full glory was incredibly emotional for many of the participants. Wiping a tear from his eye, Stephen Brewer told the videographer, “I really feel like now I know why people come from miles and, you know, states around…just to see…just to see this.”

Sevierville native Lauren Van Lew, who is colorblind, also found using the viewfinder to be a profound experience. In an interview with the Associated Press, Van Lew explained that seeing the red foliage was indescribable: “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. That red, it’s just gorgeous. It’s incredible. How do you see like that all the time?”. The vividness of the red was especially moving for Van Lew because she loves to paint, but her wife Molly needs to help her choose and mix colors. “I’d love to look at one of my paintings through this glass”, she mused to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Patty Jo McKee, another colorblind visitor who tried the viewfinder, told the media that the breathtaking color she had just observed may be “what heaven is going to be like”. McKee has never been able to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow, but now she understands what she has been missing.

A viewfinder overlooking fall colors in the mountains.The Viewfinder Will Help Millions of Vacationers

According to WYFF News, over 13 million Americans suffer from colorblindness. The most common kinds of color deficiencies are protanopia, when someone can’t see red, and protanomaly, when someone can’t see green. These conditions are caused by a faulty cone that causes wavelengths to overlap, which makes it difficult to tell one color from another. The viewfinder at Ober Gatlinburg employs a special filter that cuts out these overlapping wavelengths, which makes it easier for many users to distinguish between colors.

In addition to the one at Ober, the state has installed other colorblind-less viewfinders at the Westbound Interstate 26 overlook near Erwin and at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Oneida. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development plans to add more of these viewfinders around the state.

If you’re looking to enjoy the area’s natural beauty during your next vacation, check out these 7 scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains!

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