A Milestone in Vision Care

Two Million Schoolchildren Screened in 25 Years

On February 4, Helen Keller International delivered its two millionth free U.S. vision screening at an after-school program run by our long-time partner Children’s Aid in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

One in four children in the United States needs eyeglasses but doesn’t have them. According to 2018 analysis from Education Week Research Center, more than 29 percent of schoolchildren across the state of New York have not had a vision screening in the past two years—if ever.

Undiagnosed vision conditions among children are one of America’s biggest yet most under-recognized health problems. Children in families living in poverty are at greater risk of uncorrected vision problems because they struggle to find time, resources, and information to access health care. Vision issues can worsen over time. Children struggle not only to see, but also to learn.

Launched as a pilot in Washington Heights in 1994, Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program provides free vision screenings, free eye exams, and free prescription eyeglasses to school-aged children and vulnerable populations in New York, New York; northern New Jersey; New Haven, Connecticut; Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Los Angeles, California.

To date, the organization has screened 803,621 students in New York City alone, and two million children in total across all its program locations.

Helen Keller International first started working with Children’s Aid in 2007 as part of the organization’s work in developing the Community Schools model in New York City, which in part includes providing essential health and social supports and services to students, including vision care. This unique partnership ensures that all children identified with vision problems receive free eyeglasses at no cost to the child or their family.

“Completing our two millionth vision screening in New York City is an important opportunity to celebrate the impact of our work, and we are thrilled to share this moment with our long-time partner Children’s Aid,” said Meghan Lynch, director of Helen Keller International’s U.S. vision programs. “We look forward to another 25 years of providing effective, long-term solutions to ensure that children from under-resourced New York City neighborhoods get the vision care they need to succeed in school and in life.”

“Now is the time to maintain and increase investments in solutions that address widespread health-related issues, remove barriers to academic success, and ensure kids can realize their fullest potential,” said Danny Stephens, MD, Children’s Aid Vice President of Health and Wellness. “The needs are massive, but partnerships that deliver such promising results can make a lifelong impact in the lives of children and youth who may otherwise not have access to quality vision care.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently pledged in his January 2019 “State of the City” address to provide every kindergartener and first grader citywide with a free eye exam and free glasses through an expanded school-based vision program.

“One in four children will need glasses,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Vision screenings are crucial in identifying students who need glasses to see the blackboard, as well as those with amblyopia, or ‘wandering eye,’ which can lead to permanent vision loss. What a tremendous milestone – I applaud Children’s Aid and Helen Keller International on their steadfast commitment to this work, improving the health and wellbeing of NYC school children.”

Press contact:
Elizabeth Wright, Senior Manager of Global Communications | ewright@hki.org