Austin Seraphin says the first week with his iPhone changed his universe. Austin happens to be sight-impaired.
The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color ID. It uses the iPhone’s camera, and speaks names of colors. … Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.… I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don’t really have a color, just light sources.
The next day, I went outside. I looked at the sky. I heard colors such as “Horizon,” “Outer Space,” and many shades of blue and gray. I used color queues to find my pumpkin plants, by looking for the green among the brown and stone. I spent ten minutes looking at my pumpkin plants, with their leaves of green and lemon-ginger. I then roamed my yard, and saw a blue flower. I then found the brown shed, and returned to the gray house. My mind felt blown. I watched the sun set, listening to the colors change as the sky darkened. The next night, I had a conversation with Mom about how the sky looked bluer tonight. Since I can see some light and color, I think hearing the color names can help nudge my perception, and enhance my visual experience.
Beautiful. Sure, this story can be about ability, accessibility, and technology, but, the part I’m in love with is that once Austin had names and labels for things, it changed his perception of the world around him.
When I was in college we were having a discussion in a music appreciation course. We were analyzing the costuming of the dancers in the Rite of Spring. A hand raised in the front of the room: Molly, while having the best ears in the class, couldn’t understand yellow because she had never seen it. She was blind, and being a dutiful student, felt it was necessary to understand yellow to really grasp the point of the discussion.
“Can anyone explain yellow to Molly?” the teacher asked. A student a few seats down raised her hand. When chosen, she got up and walked over to Molly and asked for her hand. “Okay, are you ready?” she asked Molly. Molly nodded.
The student slapped Molly’s hand. And then blew on it. “That’s what yellow’s like, if you could touch it.”
I should have asked Molly if she had any words or names for some of the things she had experienced. There must be so much I don’t notice that I would if I had words. I probably would have learned something. It might have even changed my world.