A man with a rare form of colorblindness made himself into a cyborg and now he can hear colors.

In the eyes of musician Neil Harbisson, the entire world is a classic black-and-white film.

Not everyone who's colorblind sees the world in the same way. There are some people, for example, who just can't see the color green. But Neil Harbisson is one of only 30,000 people in the world born with achromatopsia, a unique form of colorblindness that renders your entire visual spectrum in grayscale. He's literally never seen color.

And while some colorblind folks have been able to use EnChroma glasses to see colors for the first time, Harbinsson's full grayscale colorblindness means those won't help him. But that didn't stop him from finding another way to experience colors, even if he can't see them.


Harbisson has found a way to hear color instead.

And he did so with the help of an antenna implanted in his head. (Yeahbutwhat?! — I don't think you understand how excited I am that I got to type that sentence.)

Neil Harbisson. Photo by Dan Wilton/The Red Bulletin via Wikimedia Commons

Harbisson installed the antenna back in 2004 using a process known as " osseointegration," meaning it's directly connected to the bone of his skull.

The antenna interprets color frequencies on the visible spectrum, then translates those light waves into sound waves Harbisson hears through bone conduction (that is, vibrations in the bones of the inner ear). And yes, "built-in skull speakers" are pretty much the most metal thing ever.

Each color has its own unique musical tone, which allows Harbisson to, for example, understand that the blue of the sky and the blue of someone's eyes are the same color — a relationship that he was otherwise unaware of when he was just seeing in grayscale. By using sound as a reference point, he can more easily connect the colors of two related objects and sonically recreate a visual portrait for himself.

As he explains in a short film by Greg Bukalla (embedded below):

GIFset via Greg Brunkalla/Vimeo.

Also, a fun fact: Since the UK doesn't allow electronic devices or cosmetic alterations to appear in government-issued IDs, Harbisson had to obtain special permission to include his antenna in his passport photo. Which means he's technically the world's first legally-recognized cyborg.

Neil Harbisson, discussing his own cyborg nature. Photo via Neil Harbisson/Flickr.

Of course, Harbisson isn't the only person who can hear colors.

While Harbisson's ability to hear colors is helped by technological means, people born with a condition called "synesthesia" naturally process certain sensory information through their other senses. It's estimated than one in every 2,000 people can taste color, or hear smells, or smell sounds, or have some other totally unique — and totally real — way of using their senses.

Just as Harbisson associates that G-sharp sound with car horns and limes, there are people for whom the word "speak" tastes like bacon, people whose mom and dad taste like ice cream and peas, respectively (and I mean that in the least creepy and cannibalistic way possible, and even people who learn constitutional amendments or math based on their colors.

While this might sound like pretty poetic imagery to others, for these individuals, this is how they actually perceive the world around them. That's the reality they live with — and it's no more or less accurate than yours or mine.

Neil Harbisson's first " Color-conducted Concert." Photo by PaulDter/Wikimedia Commons.

Different people see the world in different ways. And sometimes that difference is even more literal than we realize.

We've all been told before that we should try to see the world from other peoples' points of view. Usually we're talking about unique life experiences and how they shape or inform an individual perspective. And that's still a very important lesson.

But synesthetes and people like Neil Harbisson remind us to take a step back from that deep, metaphorical lesson and realize that even things as basic as tastes, sights, sounds, and other sensations aren't necessarily universal. It's easy for someone like me to take for granted that a lime is green and tastes like a lime. But for someone else, that lime is actually the color of a car horn or might taste like the Ten Commandments. Who's to say that either one is right or wrong?

Who knows? Maybe the world would be a better place if we all knew, like Neil Harbisson does, that every shade of human skin just sounds like a slightly different orange.

Here's a short documentary film about Neil Harbisson and his extraordinary antenna:

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
smiling woman in gray hoodie beside smiling boy in blue and red jacket

After a year and a half of a global pandemic and domestic upheaval, most of us are feeling some variation of tired, fried, exhausted and generally done with everything. We've been swimming through choppy and uncharted waters, and even strong swimmers need a life jacket under such conditions.

We can all use an extra measure of grace and understanding as we navigate these waters, which is why this email from a professor to her English 101 class is so dang heartwarming. This message went out to students the day after their first essay was due, with the subject line, "You need a break today."

Here's what it said:

"All,

The pandemic is kicking everyone's ass. Can I say that? I don't know, but I did.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!