In 2010-2013 the Yakima Valley of Washington State was ablaze with concerns due to the lack of access to vision screenings, eye exams, eyeglasses, and treatment for vision issues impacting children. This concern was especially expressed in the area’s Native American communities. Two publications, one by the Americorps Child Vision Project1 and the other a University of Washington Master Thesis by Barbara Obena, MPH2 highlighted the social injustice of undetected near vision dysfunctions, such as convergence insufficiency, impeding student learning and achievement.
Concerned citizens approached Professor William Erdly, PhD, Chair of the Computing and Systems Science division at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) to see if computer science students at the university could explore technologies that might assist in school screenings and treatment of near vision disorders.
Alan Pearson, OD PhD joined Professor Erdly and students as the Clinical Advisor of the new Children’s Vision Research Group.
In 2014, the first Educating Young Eyes symposium convened at the university and was attended by teachers, school nurses, attorneys, Washington State Supreme Court judges, politicians, optometrists, ophthalmologists, and concerned citizens across our State representing a wide range of diverse communities. The goal was to understand the issues and explore what could be done next.
Twenty-five percent of school children have vision issues that impact learning according to Washington Board of Health4. Vision issues may include high refractive errors, amblyopia, strabismus, ocular health, and near vision dysfunctions such as convergence insufficiency. Ideally, the first four categories are identified early in the birth to five age through regular well-child pediatric visits and eye exam referrals. School vision screenings can function as a backup if vision issues are missed early on.
The last category - near vision dysfunction - generally emerges as a child encounters the extensive vision demands of academics. School screening should be sensitive for this condition. Furthermore, an effective screening should be connected to an established and evidence based intervention.
Research at the EYE Center revolves around questions concerning near vision function, and effective treatment protocols that are accessible and economical. Such research must be applied and proven within communities of need. Thus, it is essential that the EYE Center delivers services to children in order to measure results and iteratively improve systems of screenings, evaluations, and interventions.