Breaking Down the Barriers to Vision Care

This week, Smart Vision Labs launched a bilingual option to the telemedicine platform, with the addition of a Spanish version of the vision test. As we continue to expand and as the adoption of our platform steadily increases, we released the bilingual platform to support our Spanish-speaking customers in the United States and our international partners. Far too many people, both those in developing countries and even here in the U.S., are up against barriers preventing them from receiving proper vision care. And here at Smart Vision Labs, we are – figuratively speaking – actively tearing down those barriers.

As of 2016, the U.S. Census reported that the number of native-Spanish speakers in the U.S. reached just over 56 million, making up 17% of our population. And according to an American Community Survey report, 29% of Hispanics say they do not speak English well, and a surprising 18% say they do not speak it at all. Consider that before you spend 4 years in college studying some other foreign language to end up only remembering how to order a drink at a bar. How useful.

The immigrant population is continuing to grow, especially the Spanish-speaking population. With English being far from an easy language to learn, we recognized the importance to adapt to the changing status of our population. With this growing population comes the need for more access to healthcare, and specifically to vision care. The number of people living with uncorrected vision is astounding. Through our own research, we discovered that around 25% of people on the road would fail the DMV vision test. What a reassuring statistic that is… With the release of our Spanish version of the vision exam, we’re hoping that we might begin to mitigate this rather large problem as more people will have easy access to proper vision testing.

But in the grand scheme of things, in the U.S., the Spanish version of the exam will help somewhere between 18-29% of the 56 million Spanish-speakers living here. That’s only roughly 3-5% of the entire U.S. population (18% and 29% multiplied by that 17% above for those not mathematically inclined). So let’s not focus on the potential changes to come to vision care in the U.S., but rather the remarkable, positive changes we foresee in vision correction in South America and other Spanish-speaking countries.

Spanish Speaking Version of Vision Testing App - Smart Vision Labs

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, and about 90% of those people live in low-income settings. However, over 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured. This means that – in a perfect world – we could reduce visual impairment to 57 million people (more math: 285 times 20%). Now I’m not saying this is likely going to happen. Nonetheless, we’re determined to try.

Let’s take a look at Mexico specifically. Optometry Giving Sight estimates that there are 49 million people in Mexico suffering from vision impairment, many because they simply do not have access to vision exams. Another study, conducted by the Pacific University College of Optometry on a humanitarian mission in Mexico, discovered that 60% of those in the study with visual acuity approaching 20/200 could have improved vision through corrective lenses or glasses. Additionally, 50% of all participants in the study showed visual acuity approaching 20/70, and almost 96% of those were corrected that day with lenses. The fundamental problem with vision care in Mexico is the lack of legislation surrounding it. There is little to no repercussion for inaccurate or poor-quality refracting within the country. And without any recourse or system in place to “quality check”, visual impairment in Mexico is seemingly inevitable.*

This is precisely what we at Smart Vision Labs are trying to change by bringing effective and accurate refracting to the country. With our partnerships, and with the potential to expand substantially thanks to the Spanish version of the exam, we’re confident that we will begin to see the percentage of people in Mexico with corrected vision trending upwards. The census in Mexico estimates that only 5% of citizens speak English. Other sources have pointed towards numbers around 12%. Take from that what you wish. Bottomline is that it’s a very low percentage, so let’s not be pedantic about the exact number.

With the release of the Spanish-language vision exam, we plan to attract an increasingly larger customer-base, those that we were potentially missing before due to language barriers. Additionally, with the convenience of an exam requiring no appointment, we continue to try to eliminate other minor barriers preventing people from receiving vision exams. Going forward we plan to increase the number of languages on our telemedicine platform to provide people all over the world access to our vision exam. So keep an eye out. Who knows, maybe someday those years spent studying a foreign language might just finally come in handy.

Issy Bonebrake is a born-again New Yorker living down in the Village. She considers herself to be a self-proclaimed, cautiously optimistic futurist. As a classic rock aficionado, she enjoys binge watching rockumentaries from the coziness of her less than 500 square footage apartment. Issy spent 5 years studying Italian. It has yet proven to be at all useful to her.

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*OPTOMETRY IN THE AMERICAS, by Janet L. Leasher, OD, MPH, FAAO and Scott Pike, OD