A quick check of Merriam Webster’s dictionary offers the definition of momentum as “the strength or force that allows something to continue or grow stronger or faster as time passes.” This is how I would describe the current sentiment when it comes to setting standards for children’s vision. I’m confident in this opinion because of the momentum I’ve witnessed over the last couple of years.
A month ago my thinking may have been different. For some time now we’ve been working with partners, legislators, school administrators and a host of other advocates in New Jersey to require comprehensive eye exams for children before they start school. While the legislation was approved by more than 20 legislative sponsors of the bill, Governor Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed the bill, opting to reduce the requirement to vision screenings instead of comprehensive eye exams. While this is a setback for children’s vision and their education, I’m optimistic that change is already happening for these reasons:
PARTNERSHIPS ARE STRONG
In New Jersey, we were fortunate to build collaborative relationships with a number of organizations, including New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), the Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey (LDANJ), New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), and New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP). Together we are convinced about the importance of setting a baseline for children’s education through healthy vision. In addition, legislative support from Senator President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez were indispensable in helping us navigate the twists and turns of legislative change. I’m confident that this type of collaborative approach can and will serve as a model for work in other states.
THE VISION AND LEARNING CONNECTION EXISTS
Research shows that up to 80% of all learning occurs visually, leaving children with poor vision at a major disadvantage. This is why it’s so important for the topic of children’s eye exams to be discussed beyond the vision space. Educational organizations like those listed above, parents and others are beginning to understand the value that good vision plays in setting a solid foundation for education from the beginning.
CULTURAL TRENDS ARE DICTATING A FOCUS ON VISION
The confluence of a number of trends is necessitating a focus on children’s vision. The increased use of digital devices at a younger age and decreased time spent playing outside is linked to an epidemic of myopia (nearsightedness) around the world. In 2010 just over 28 percent of the world’s population was affected by myopia. This is predicted to rise to nearly 50 percent by 2050, affecting five billion people worldwide when the schoolchildren of today will be the adults of tomorrow. It’s clear that there’s change underway. What we need is a groundswell of support to turn that momentum into a movement. Won’t you join us?
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