It all started in the Yakima Valley
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. Two community members, Helen Spencer and Katie Johnson, brought this concern to the University of Washington, Bothell. The project became a central research and development effort by CSS and Interactive Media Design students and continued to make significant progress each year.
William Erdly PhD
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 FCOVD
Alan Pearson OD PhD joined Professor Erdly and students as the Clinical Advisor of the new Children’s Vision Research Group. Dr. Pearson has been providing evaluation and therapy for near vision dysfunction for over 25 years. Dr. Pearson is also a software developer and has created the core of the EYE Toolbox system.
2014 Educating Young Eyes Symposium
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.
Senate Bill 6245 Passed
As a result of the connections made at our symposium and other related efforts, the Washington State legislature ultimately passed Senate Bill 6245 (in 2016) mandating that all public schools screen for near vision issues in addition to distance vision.
2016 Educating Young Eyes Symposium
The second Educating Young Eyes symposium occurred in the fall of 2016 and shortly thereafter Erdly and Pearson founded the EYE Center for Children’s Vision Learning & Technology, at UWB. The EYE Center’s mission is a university sponsored non-profit dedicated to service, research, development, and learning. The EYE Center was focused on systemic change transforming the lives of children throughout the world. Our goal was to increase awareness and provide access to all communities about the importance of functional vision in children’s learning. We sought to understand needs, develop tools, deliver care, measure results, and teach others.
2019 Mobile Vision Clinic and Technology Grants
The EYE Center was awarded two grants from the SEVA Foundation. One to build a mobile vision clinic to serve vision needs in WA State Native American communities. And the second grant to support further development of our EYE Toolbox software system.
2020 A Year to Pause and Reflect
When COVID hit in 2020 further maturation of the EYE Center at the university was slowed.
But it did give us time to reflect on our mission and the best way forward. And with obvious near vision dysfunction that surfaced with online school and work from home, this year's experience has charged our passion that our organization is needed like never before.
2021 Near Vision Institute incorporated
In May of 2021 we formed Near Vision Institute, a non-profit corporation in order to create the infastructure and operations necessary to provide clinical services through our Bothell based EYE See Clinic, and during our Mobile Vision Clinic trips.
Near Vision Institute will also operate the EYE Toolbox and EYE Education units.
The EYE Center for Children's Vision, Learning, & Technology was renamed the EYE Research Group and continues to operate under the University of Washington umbrella.
Twenty-five percent of school children have vision issues that impact learning according to Washington Board of Health. 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.
Near vision dysfunction is not only a problem for students. Increasingly, jobs require a full day's work staring at a computer screen at near distances. Worker productivity is negatively impacted by near vision dysfunctions.
Research supported by the Near Vision Institute 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.
There are four essential pillars sustaining the mission of NVI:
- The EYE See Clinic - providing evaluations and treatment services in WA State. Serving as a model.
- The EYE Toolbox - a cloud based software as a service toolkit for addressing near vision dysfunction and other vision issues.
- EYE Education - Sponsoring conferences, workshops, and online learning on near vision issues and best practice interventions.
- EYE Research Group - Collaboration with Students, Faculty, and Researchers at the University of Washington Bothell.
Together, these four pillars present a comprehensive research activity system that fosters an agile and iterative cycle of public knowledge generation towards more effective solutions.