Otago Polytechnic

Some New Zealand children don't have the glasses they need for their schoolwork.

In New Zealand children's vision is screened at age four, but only for amblyopia (lazy eyes). At age 10-11, New Zealand children are tested again but only for distance vision (short-sightedness). These screening opportunities do not identify all of the children with vision problems, and not all of those identified subsequently get glasses. This is a significant public health issue because of the impact of vision problems on learning, compromising the children's academic achievement.

Occupational therapist Professor Mary Butler has permission to use the Eyes Right Toolkit developed in the United Kingdom by the Pocklington Trust for adults. A 2018 pilot run by Mary with two undergraduate Occupational Therapy students reached 122 children in Year 9 and 10, aged 14 and 15. The children learned about common eye problems and how they can protect their eyes, engaged in a low vision simulation exercise, and were then shown how to do the screening using the Toolkit. Both teachers and children were pleased with the session and valued it. Seventeen percent of these children failed the screening; these children were given a referral letter to take home, encouraging them to see an optometrist. After one month none of these children had used their 50% discount vouchers. After a reminder was sent, just one family took the opportunity to use the voucher to take their child to an optometrist. 

During 2019 the Toolkit has been adapted for the New Zealand context and for children, supported by funding from the Participatory Science Platform and the Ombler Trust. The design team comprised Mary Butler, optometrist Kelechi Ogbuehi, Product Design Academic Leader Machiko Niimi and her student Curtis Stent, occupational therapy student Sarah Drummond, and school teacher Karen Parker. An iterative design process was used with pupils at Tahuna Intermediate School enthusiastically involved. The final design was then used with year 7 children, and the results validated against an electronic vision screener. A group of Information Technology students under supervision of Principal Lecturer Adon Moskal also developed an app which is available from the Google Play Store under "Otago Polytechnic - Eyes Right Toolkit".

This investigation indicates that the concept of "child-to-child" vision screening has merit, to help ensure that every child is screened without a huge additional investment of heath funding.  


February 2020