The eighth graders at MS 80 in the Bronx line up, single file, in front of an eye chart on the stage of their crowded auditorium. Some of them read the letters on the chart aloud with clarity and certainty. Others have trouble reading even the top few lines. Some students are already wearing glasses, while others have spent months and even years squinting to read letters on signs or on the chalkboard in class.
What all of the students have in common is that their eyes were screened as a part of Helen Keller International’s ChildSight® program. ChildSight® screens children for uncorrected refractive error (commonly known as near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism), which 2 million children in the United States suffer from, and provide students in need with free eyeglasses. After the initial screening, the students who do not pass the chart test are examined by an on-site optometrist. The optometrist determines the student’s prescription and then the big moment arrives – selecting the frames. Students sit at a long table covered in a variety of glasses, carefully choosing the pair that looks and feels right.
It was at the frame selection table that I saw Keiro, a young man already wearing glasses who was examining the variety of frames in front of him with great care, searching for just the right pair. As he tried on each pair of glasses, he studied his reflection in a hand mirror from a few different angles, just to be sure.
Keiro has been wearing glasses since he was 8 years old. The glasses he was wearing that day were purchased by his mother two years ago. Keiro is nearsighted, which he explained to me means that he has trouble seeing things from far away. “I have trouble seeing plays,” he said. When I asked him why he was getting new glasses, he answered with perfect clarity about his vision problems. “I’ve had these glasses too long…the problem is this,” he said, pointing to the lens of his eyeglasses and referring to his need for a new lens prescription, ”is starting to wear off. So, I just need new glasses.” Keiro finally settled on a pair of trendy black frames. Excited at the prospect seeing more clearly and, he admitted, of changing up his look, Keiro eagerly asked me when his new glasses would be ready. When I explained that they would be ready in just a week or two, his face lit up. He thanked me for what he called “an important program,” simply stating that “some people just need glasses.” As I watched him make his way back to class, I smiled at the thought that Keiro would now be able to see his world a lot more clearly.