Eye care initiative for Wellington Special Olympics

Hundreds of Special Olympics athletes from around New Zealand have been screened for undiagnosed eye conditions during the Lions Club International Special Olympics Opening Eyes movement at the Wellington games, November 26 – December 1.
The screenings were supported by the Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF), a New Zealand charity which provides free vision testing and glasses for low decile schools as well as screening for university students and other groups.
Gordon Stevenson of the Essilor Vision Foundation says a great number of special needs competitors suffer poor eye health, as they can be more difficult to examine, require specialist equipment and skills, and need a longer examination time.
Mr Stevenson says the assessment process was a significant undertaking for the more than 60 specialist optometrists, technicians and volunteers screened more than a thousand competitors and manufacture lenses for the hundreds of those expected to be diagnosed with vision conditions – in just five days.
A study by Special Olympics New Zealand which provides sports training, competition and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities showed that nine out of 10 athletes failed their Opening Eyes screening tests.
Mr Stevenson says this is because funds are often difficult to secure for spectacle and ophthalmic care, especially if spectacles are misplaced or broken and it can be difficult for this group to maintain a current pair.
“Sadly many of many of these sports people have never had an eye examination as they often fall through the cracks when it comes to access to this type of healthcare.”
Mr Stevenson says unfortunately that in addition to correcting near and far sightedness, over a dozen other undiagnosed conditions were identified in athletes at one of the previous games they supported.
Mr Stevenson says many of these conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, strabismus and entropion, are treatable if detected early enough.
The 2017 Special Olympics National Summer Games were held in Wellington from 27 November to 1 December and is New Zealand’s largest sports event for people with intellectual disabilities