ST JOHN’S, Antigua – As Blindness Awareness month draws to a close, optometrists and educators are continuing their fight to ensure that undiagnosed visual impairment is not allowed to hinder the educational prospects of the island’s youth.
Optometrist Dr Jillia Bird, who has been at the forefront of combatting ocular impairments in Antigua & Barbuda for more than 20 years, said she still believes the link between learning and visual impairment is not stressed enough.
“We can not over-emphasise the importance of checking vision as soon as children enter school because you can not assess learning and learning capabilities and future prospects for our children if you can not gauge how well they see,” the doctor said.
She added, “I think that’s one of the most important aspects of learning. It has to do with vision, how children see, and hearing involved with this also.”
Lisa Hickson, teacher at TN Kirnon’s School’s Visual Impairment Unit, is visually impaired and knows fully well what affected students are experiencing.
She noted that many students fall through the cracks in school as their inability to see properly is often misconstrued as learning disorders.
“Some children can be seen as being slow or not picking up as well as other children are, not knowing that they are visually impaired; that they are just not seeing. Not that they are not capable of learning, but they are not seeing,” Hickson added.
The teacher said consistent eye examinations are the only way to diagnose if children have visual impairments.
Although Dr Bird’s primary focus is the eye, she agreed with Hickson that hearing screening is also important, as visual impairment can also be linked to hearing difficulties.
TN Kirnon School is just one of the 28 government primary schools that will benefit from the Lion’s Club Eye Screening in Schools programme.
It was launched earlier in the week to offer first and sixth graders free eye examinations and referrals.
Dr Bird is one of five optometrists on island who will perform the free screenings for over 11,000 students.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)