Supporting a population that most choose to ignore
Since 2012, Special Olympics and Optometry Giving Sight have joined forces to address the lack of access to quality vision care provided to children and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (ID/DD) across the United States and most recently in Malawi, Africa.
This joint project highlights some of the startling differences, as well as similarities experienced by individuals with intellectual disabilities in their quest for equitable vision care.
In North America, approximately 45% of individuals with ID/DD require new prescription glasses and approximately 15% have some form of eye disease. By contrast, in Malawi approximately 70% of individuals with intellectual disabilities have never had an eye exam, 19% require prescription glasses and 14% require a referral for some form of eye disease.
Special Olympics and Optometry Giving Sight share a commitment to helping empower the most marginalized, and to ensure equal access to critical services like eye health and vision care. This access to health services transcends the field of play, and helps individuals with intellectual disabilities perform better in the classroom, in the workplace, and in the community.
Moreover, the focus on both training and service delivery has created a cadre of volunteer clinical professionals who are trained and empowered to bring forth the Opening Eyes program in their communities in partnership with Special Olympics.
The partnership has so far screened 3, 491 athletes, distributed 900 prescription- and 51 Sports Protective eyewear. It has trained 72 volunteer eye care professionals as well as 132 optometry students.
One of last year’s highlights was the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. 3,353 athletes from over 100 countries visited the Opening Eyes screening and 875 were fitted with a new pair of prescription glasses during the Games in time for them to improve their vision and sporting performance.
The screening brought together optometry students from the Los Angeles area, clinical professionals from across the United States and international professionals from around the world who volunteered to serve at the screening. Both students and volunteers alike commented on how they had gained valuable experience from being able to screen such a large and diverse number of international athletes from countries of varying levels of vision care services.
“Special Olympics acknowledges the key role that Optometry Giving Sight is playing in building capacity amongst vision care professionals and the important role that this plays in ensuring the sustained, quality services to individuals with ID.”
Photos courtesy: Special Olympics