Vision for the underserved
Zakiya Nicks, O.D., wants more children in underserved communities in her native city of Memphis, Tenn., to get eye exams. And she doesn't want the homeless people who live in the streets to go without glasses.
"Someone might not be able to get a job because they can't see. Proper eye care could change their situation."
To help in both cases, Dr. Nicks coordinates community outreach programs at The Eye Center at Southern College of Optometry. For example, she oversees "Project Homeless Connect: Focus on Vision Care," which serves the homeless in Memphis and Shelby county.
One tool she has found effective in extending her reach is the Healthy Eyes Healthy People® State Association Grant (HEHP), a program of Optometry Cares®— the AOA Foundation, supported by Luxottica.
HEHP grants seek more comprehensive approaches to the vision and eye health care needs of the American population. AOA members have been encouraged to use these grants to help improve vision care in community settings.
The Project Homeless program, which received a $4,000 HEHP grant in 2013, aims to improve access to comprehensive eye health and vision care so that homeless individuals can get the services they need for uncorrected vision problems. To date, the program through various events has administered 341 eye exams, dispensed 110 reading glasses and ordered 176 prescription glasses.
Recently, Dr. Nicks received an HEHP grant to help fund the See to Read Vision Awareness Program in Memphis. It is a joint project of the Southern College of Optometry and the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. Through interactive educational events, the program aims to increase the number of children in high-poverty areas who get eye exams from an OD.
In this excerpt from a Q&A in the May edition of AOA Focus, Dr. Nicks discusses the instant rewards that come from giving a homeless person a new pair of glasses, and how a day at the zoo can teach children new things about their vision.
What's the biggest challenge in treating the homeless through the Project Homeless Connect Program?
There are different reasons why someone may be homeless. Someone might not be able to get a job because they can't see. Proper eye care could change their situation.
We set up a vision area and we actually deliver eye care there. At the end of the event, if we decide someone needs glasses, we have reading glasses that are donated, as well as optical fitting for some types of prescription glasses.
We're able to give them a pair of reading glasses on the spot. They put them on and realize they can actually see at that point. That's one of the biggest rewards. That gives them instant gratification.
An HEHP grant helped fund another children's program, "Eye Spy: A Day at the Zoo." Tell us about the program.
We've partnered with the Memphis Zoo to host vision-related events at the zoo. The idea is to educate parents and children on different aspects of children's vision. Similar to the See to Read Program, we set up different stations and try to incorporate it with different aspects of the zoo.
For example, there's an optical illusions station, or a binocular vision station where we talk about eye movement or see things in 3-D. We have a UV station where they make bracelets with beads that change colors with UV rays. Another station is a "bird's eye view," which involves different magnifiers.
At the last [Eye Spy] event in June 2013, we had over 530 children register.
Why do so many children in underserved areas go without proper vision care?
A lot of times it's just a lack of education. A lot of them just don't realize the importance of the eye exam. Parents are not aware that a child may not be performing well in school or has behavioral problems. They don't have the attention span to sit there because they don't see the same thing another child may see. If a parent has never had to wear glasses before, they're just not aware of it.
Photograph by Trey Clark