Known as the “Knights of the Blind,” Lions Club International is a strong supporter of eye health programs and, as such, the Emo and District Lions Club is jumping on board to conduct vision screenings for young students locally.
As a director of the Lions Foundation of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, Joanne Ogden, past president and current secretary of district club, said the group discussed getting eye scanners for each of its districts.
Made by Welsh Allyn and called a Spot Vision Screener, the scanner is a hand-held, portable device designed to help users quickly and easily detect vision issues on patients from six months of age through adulthood.
“They said we could do one scanner in each of the three districts—5M10, 5M11, and 5M13—those are our Lions’ districts,” Ogden explained.
She then approached the Rainy River District School Board about the possibility of conducting eye scans on students and it was eager to be a part of the program.
“Our school board was so wonderful to work with,” Ogden enthused. “They said let’s do whatever it takes to get this rolling.
“We’re really please with how the Rainy River District School Board responded to this.”
Ogden went back to the Foundation’s board of directors and it purchased the scanner.
“We are a pilot project so that scanner is housed at [the] Emo and District Lions,” she noted.
“But we are training people from our branch club, which is in Rainy River, as well as in Emo, out of the two [Lions] clubs in Fort Frances, and in Atikokan.
“So we, with this scanner, are going to cover from Atikokan through to Rainy River and all the public schools there,” Ogden said, adding they’re also hoping to go into the three First Nations’ schools, as well.
“It’s very simple. It’s essentially fool-proof to use,” she stressed. “It’s a total hands-off approach.
“We stand three feet away from the child, with the scanner level with the eyes,” Ogden explained.
“You want the pupils dilated so the scanner can see in the pupil.”
She noted if the room is too brightly lit, the pupil will contract and you can’t get a good read.
“So you just put sunglasses on the kids or dim the room for 10-15 minutes, and you can get a read,” she said.
“It goes to the back of the eyeball and refracts light back to the camera, and then there are readings that come from that,” Ogden noted.
“It will say a ‘pass’ or ‘fail,’ and that’s really all we want to know.
“It picks up nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism—a whole plethora of things,” she added.
“So if it’s a fail, an eye exam is recommended.”
Ogden noted the club will be scanning students in JK, SK, and Grade 1 to start.
“Kids from six months to six years have the biggest chance of fixing eyesight problems within that time frame,” she explained.
“So if you can correct them before six years, they have a really good chance of getting permanent correction.”
She said they can scan older eyes, as well, but the Spot Vision Screener doesn’t pick up things like glaucoma and other eye problems that develop later in life.
Ogden also recalled a story from the U.S. where a child was upset because his mother hadn’t given him permission for the eye scan and he felt left out, so she signed the form.
“There was no light in his scan so he was referred to an optometrist and . . . they found a tumor in his eye that would have probably killed him and probably wouldn’t have been picked up until it was too late,” she noted.
As such, Ogden encourages parents to allow for their child to be scanned.
Permission will be done by exception, with parents having to sign and return the form if they do not wish their child to be screened.
Ogden stressed there are no confidentiality concerns.
“We get a number, the student gets a number, and the teachers match the numbers after the scans,” she explained.
“And the scans are printed off for the teachers on the school computer.”
The only thing the Lions keep track of is how many boys and girls they scan, and how many “passes” and “fails” there were.
“Anybody who has eyeglasses already, we scan them with their eyeglasses on,” Ogden added.
“We know there is a problem,” she noted. “The optometrist has picked it up, but we just want to make sure the problem is still corrected because something else can happen in the interim.”
Meanwhile, Ogden noted one optometrist in the district has signed up for the provincial funding for free eyeglasses for kids in JK.
“So any kid that has an issue, needs eyeglasses, and the parents are struggling with expenses, the eyeglasses are provided free for the children,” she explained.
“Anybody else who is struggling with eyeglasses funding—that’s what your Lions Clubs are for.”
The Emo and District Lions Club may look into expanding and doing older students in the future, as well as taking the eye scanner to community events for anyone who wishes to have one done.
For now, they will scan students in JK, SK, and Grade 1 in all the public schools in district—and they will continue to scan that age group in the years to come.
“Even the kids who are in JK this year will get scanned again in SK next year and in Grade 1 the year after, so making sure we get them through the first six years of life with really good eyes and really good eyesight,” Ogden said.
“Because eyesight equals learning,” she stressed. “If you can’t see, it’s difficult to learn.”
In related news, the Emo and District Lions Club also is working with an audiologist in Winnipeg, who is affiliated with the Lions Foundation, in order to purchase a piece of equipment to test children’s hearing.
“So that’s coming,” Ogden said. “We’ll probably be the first to pilot that, as well.”
She added club members all are very excited about the eye screening project.
“This is strictly community service and that’s what Lions is all about,” she reasoned.
If anyone is interested in having the Lions attend an event with its eye scanner, call Ogden at 271-0941.