Like many colorblind people who have adapted all their lives to a particular way of seeing things, Harry Rogers says his inability to discern red and green hasn't caused him much trouble over the years.
Even so, there is one particular challenge: Making sense of charts, graphs and other colorful material on his computer screen. Sometimes he sees a weather map online and says to himself, "Is it raining or snowing there?"
And so the 48-year-old electrical engineer was eager to try eyePilot, a new program that gives colorblind people several ways to filter multichromatic images on their computer screens.
Move the PC's cursor over an item, and eyePilot reports what the color is. If the user clicks on a color name, all instances of it on the page will flash. Or one color can be made to stand out by converting the rest of a page to gray and white.
EyePilot also offers the software equivalent of a TV hue knob, allowing users to adjust the overall spectrum of a page until telling contrasts are more easily viewed.
"It's kind of refreshing that somebody's looking at it," said Rogers, who lives in Andover, Mass. EyePilot "has enabled me to do some things that I have not been able to do before."
In part because computer-savvy baby boomers are getting older, powerful technologies to assist users with disabilities are becoming more prevalent, from speech recognition software to screen magnifiers.
But few efforts have gone into improving the view for people with color blindness, even though about 8 percent of men and roughly one-half of 1 percent of women have some form of it.
EyePilot, which formally launches Monday for $34, comes from what might seem an unlikely source: a small defense contractor named Tenebraex Corp., based in an airy loft in an out-of-the-way dock district on Boston Harbor. Defense-thriller author Tom Clancy is an investor.
Privately held Tenebraex (pronounced "TEN-uh-bray-ex"; the name is derived from the Latin for "shadow") specializes in optics technologies for the military. Its main breakthrough was a honeycombed covering that prevents binoculars, gun sights and other lenses from giving off reflections that can reveal a soldier's location.
More recently, CEO Peter Jones and senior scientist Dennis Purcell have been exploring a filtering method that lets night-vision goggles operate in color rather than their familiar monochrome green. As Jones puts it, imagine what that could mean for the soldier on night patrol who hears, "The bad guy is driving a green car," or "Cut the red wire!"
Tenebraex is working on selling the product to the military. But Jones and Purcell, who met in the 1970s when Purcell was a Polaroid Corp. manager and Jones was a contractor, decided to see if their ideas about color and filtering could have other uses. EyePilot was born.
In a world where more and more work is conducted online, Jones stresses that the color blind might not be alone in benefiting from the way EyePilot lets users pinpoint particular shades on a screen or shift hues to bring out easier-to-detect contrasts.
He points to a government weather map at http://www.nws.noaa.gov — a thickly populated menagerie of color-denoted information.
"It's a set of tools," Jones said of eyePilot. "It's a Swiss Army knife. You can use it yourself to decode color."
But some people with color blindness who weren't part of Tenebraex's test marketing questioned whether the software would encounter an enthusiastic batch of buyers.
Quil Lawrence, a radio journalist based in Washington, D.C., said that some graphics online are difficult if, say, one area is shaded in light gray and another one is light blue. Still, "It's never struck me as a horrible inconvenience," he said.
Of eyePilot, he said, "It's fascinating; I don't know how often I would use it."
But Jason Bishop, a financial analyst in Richmond, Va., said he would find it extremely helpful in creating charts for his work. Often what he produces provokes playful ribbing from colleagues "that my charts look like something out of a circus."
He added that color blindness makes some kinds of occupations off-limits, citing electricians and pilots as examples. For those and other jobs that might require use of color computer screens, eyePilot "could open up some opportunity," he said. "It's a great idea."