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America’s Blind Spot: The Vision Care Gap

For many in the United States, getting glasses is just not a big deal. But there’s a very real problem that’s right in front of us and yet we can’t see it. That problem? One in four students in the US has an undiagnosed vision correction problem.

Whether their lack of access is rooted in affordability, awareness or physical access, this issue is unacceptable. If 25% of our nation’s students can’t reach their full potential simply because they cannot see clearly, then what does that mean for our country’s future?

OneSight is a nonprofit organization working to change the vision care landscape in the US by bringing access to those that don’t have it and educating others on the gap that’s keeping so many Americans from reaching their full potential. We’re far from done – but we’re committed to continuing to find solutions to empower more US students and underserved communities with clear sight. The vision care gap can be attributed to three main barriers:

Lack of Awareness
Many children are living without vision care access in our country because they’re not aware that they even have a problem – their world has always been seen through a blurred lens, and they have nothing to compare it to. Take Adan for example. He was struggling in his kindergarten classroom and was constantly in the principal’s office, which led his mother to believe that he might have ADHD. It wasn’t until he received an eye exam and a pair of glasses at a OneSight clinic that she realized he had vision problems. His mom says, “He never told me he couldn’t see the board, he always said the issue was that he was bored in class.”

Lack of Affordability
In the US, vision care and health care are often treated separately. So even if medical care for students is available, it often doesn’t include a comprehensive eye exam (or sometimes any vision care at all). And then there are replacements—kids can be tough on glasses, so even if they do get a pair, they may not be able to afford a new pair if their prescription changes, their glasses break, or they physically outgrow them.

Affordability can be one of the main barriers to accessing vision care for many people in the US. When finances are tight, a pair of glasses get deprioritized in comparison to other pressing needs like food, shelter and medical bills. Parents like Susan, who knew her son Sean and daughter Emily needed glasses but was fighting to make ends meet and who needed to get her own glasses first to ensure she could keep her job as a bus driver. For them and so many families like them, an eye exam and a pair of glasses are a luxury that keeps getting pushed further and further down the priority list as other expenses come up. At OneSight, we believe seeing clearly shouldn’t be a luxury – that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality vision care.

Lack of Physical Access
Believe it or not, a lack of proximity keeps thousands of Americans from accessing vision care. In rural communities where optometrists and/or affordable eyecare aren’t as common, people must travel to great lengths for an eye exam. OneSight’s working to change that. Our school-based vision centers go straight to the source, placing vision care facilities within schools in at-need communities. Students are able to visit the centers during school hours and sometimes their family members are able to use the centers as well. The centers set the cost of glasses and care at an affordable rate that those in the community can afford with insurance. If the student is uninsured, OneSight will provide them with the glasses and eye exam for free.

Some communities, such as Bakersfield, California, require tailored solutions. To serve this region OneSight enacts a ‘hub and spoke model,’ in which we use a main vision care facility to manufacture glasses and host community vision screenings. In the surrounding rural areas, we create smaller centers in schools that can conduct screenings and send prescriptions off to be manufactured at the main facility. 

There are many reasons why this problem exists in the US, all of which boil down to one simple solution: access to an eye exam and a pair of glasses. We have a plan to bring access to everyone, everywhere – the US included – but we can’t do it alone.

One step we can take now to help people discover some basic vision issues while they are at home is to encourage them to take OneSight’s free Online Vision Check.

“It’s a key time for us all to be more aware of our eyes since we are using them in new and different ways in this stay-at-home environment,” according to Reshma Dabideen, OneSight’s Global Medical Lead & Director of Programming for Africa. “Early detection is true for health in general, and definitely for vision. Vision screenings play a critical role in helping determine the need for a full eye exam.”

For even more ways to help people get the vision care they need, visit OneSight.org/act and see how we can close the vision care gap for good, together. 


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