Seeing clearly: students benefit from free prescription eyeglasses

Providing the gift of sight

From her seat in the back of the classroom, 9-year-old Nylah Charles struggled to see anything her teacher wrote on the board. Instead, she’d rely on her classmates to translate the blurry words. Nylah wasn’t sure how she’d ever be able to focus.

That’s until Helen Keller International visited her school. After the nonprofit organization conducted free vision screenings, a new pair of black eyeglasses were on the way — moving Nylah to tears.

“I could see,” she said. “It was amazing. In my mind, I felt like that I was dreaming, and then I told my mom and she was crying.”

Nearly 50 students at Marion Seltzer School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District received free prescription glasses from Helen Keller International (HKI), a donation coinciding with October’s World Sight Day. The vision program is part of a $250,000 UnitedHealthcare Empowering Health grant to HKI to provide vision screenings, comprehensive eye exams and glasses to low-income children and adults across northeast Ohio. HKI estimates the generous donation will fund vision screenings for over 7,000 people and free eyeglasses to any individual found with impaired vision.

“These types of services are absolutely invaluable to our kids for several different reasons. Cleveland is an urban district. It's a poor district. So, people, maybe they do have insurance, maybe they don't. A lot of them work several jobs just to take care of their families,” said Michael Cotter, Marion Seltzer’s school nurse. “We take care of everything for them. It’s beautiful.”

Early detection and treatment are critical as uncorrected vision problems may impair child development, interfere with learning and even lead to permanent vision loss. More than 1 in 20 preschool-age children and 1 in 4 school-age children have a vision disorder, according to the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health

“Just to be able to give students their first pair of glasses, that's rewarding. We also feel that same fuzziness, when we're able to replace glasses. We're able to do a lot now, so it just feels good to get up every day knowing we're helping so many people,” said Daveda Cunningham, Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program manager in Ohio.

UnitedHealthcare awarded more than $1 million in Empowering Health grants to four Cleveland-area community-based organizations, including HKI, to expand access to care and address the social determinants of health in underserved communities.

“At UnitedHealthcare we’re able to address an individual's health and wellness. But it's mostly after something's been diagnosed or addressed,” said Rick Dunlop, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement in Ohio. “This grant is actually able to get out in front of those issues — before they turn into a diagnosis.”

Nylah already had big plans for the world with her new glasses. She planned to head home right after school to open up a Harry Potter book and finish the chapters she once strained to see.

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom