Growing up, I had perfect eye sight. I passed every school screening and vision check at my pediatrician’s office. I never had an eye exam with an eye doctor until I was a senior in high school and started experiencing eye fatigue in class. I didn’t know until years later – after joining the eyecare sector – that eye screenings alone fail to address the health of a person’s eyes and should only be used as a baseline to determine how well a person sees.
When I became a mom, my children didn’t only have one set of DNA (shocker!), but I gave it no thought that their father’s poor eyesight could have been passed on to them. It just never crossed my mind. At an early age, my middle son was experiencing headaches, motion sickness, and dizziness unrelated to any kind of illness. Numerous doctor visits and tests had proven he was a perfectly healthy child – but he was suffering from an invisible issue, uncorrected poor vision.
An eye exam was key to addressing all of those issues. Like many others, for him, a simple pair of eyeglasses was the solution.
Sadly, his case was not unique. Globally, 2.7 billion people still need a pair of eyeglasses to ensure they can see and be their very best. Of those, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 billion people have vision impairment or blindness that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. While poor vision is the world’s largest avoidable disability, it’s a problem that can often be invisible.
Research suggests that 1 in 4 children in the U.S. has a vision problem—an estimated 12.1 million children. And this issue is growing, with cases of nearsightedness (myopia) on the rise as a result of increased digital device use and less time spent outdoors. Experts agree that up to 80% of children’s learning is through their visual system, and those with poor vision are at a major disadvantage in the classroom and beyond. Good vision is critical for a child's social, cognitive, emotional, and physical development.
Vision disorders in children can easily be detected through proactive measures and early intervention for some disorders is critical. An annual comprehensive eye exam from a trained eyecare professional, who can diagnose and evaluate eye functioning and assess vision health, is the gold standard for care.
While vision screenings, available in most US schools, can detect simple eye problems and help determine when greater intervention is required, there is no national standard, and vison screenings are not enough to detect all vision problems.
As we look to end the social impact of poor vision, we must advocate for higher level changes at the government and private sector levels. It’s clear that with so many larger societal issues linked to poor vision – like education, poverty, good health, and even gender equity – vision is a cause we must address if we are to create resilient societies.
As children with poor vision become the workers of tomorrow, we must also acknowledge the productivity challenges that exist when a portion of the workforce can’t see. Uncorrected poor vision poses an enormous economic burden on society: annual global productivity losses associated with vision impairment from uncorrected vision (nearsightedness and farsightedness) alone are estimated to be $272 billion. In some cases, poor vision can stop careers in their tracks or slow down productivity, as vision-challenged individuals struggle to do the work that was previously within their abilities.
Vision affects us all, and the solution is one we must adopt together.
It will take more than government and individual efforts to change the state of the world’s vision. We cannot talk about solely encouraging legislators to act or encourage non-profits to donate or sell spectacles to under-resourced communities. We must develop strategies that bring together government, non-profits, social enterprises, and the private sector.
Whether it’s offering employees and families adequate vision coverage through company health benefit plans or connecting your organization’s social responsibility efforts to a vision cause, there are numerous ways to advocate for the priority of good vision. Partnership is key to determining the role the private sector can play in ending poor vision and its consequences.
The cost of poor vision is a cost to our future potential. It’s our responsibility to set society up to tackle the problems and challenges of tomorrow. Let’s start by ensuring today’s children can see clearly!
[Kristan Gross recently spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2022 Corporate Citizenship Conference: Business Solves on efforts to address the impact of hidden disabilities to improve quality of life. Watch the session here.]