FRAMED: Removing barriers to vision care

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By Denis Langlois

Within its first few months of operation, Winnipeg-based Mobile Vision Care Clinic provided more than $30,000 in free eyewear to children in need.
“The reason I love what I do is because every day I have the opportunity to ensure kids who would normally not have access to vision care, for a variety of reasons, gain access to these services,” says optician Sean Sylvestre, founder and chief executive officer of the Mobile Vision Care Clinic.

The business was born in 2017 after a school division in Winnipeg approached Sylvestre about developing a vision care program that would allow children in need to receive comprehensive eye examinations from licensed optometrists in their schools as well as eyeglasses, if needed, without their families having to incur any cost.

The program officially rolled out in September 2017. Currently, six people, including two opticians, work for the business and two optometrists provide their services on a contract basis.

Sylvestre said the plan for this year is to offer the program to students enrolled within the 20 more socioeconomically challenged inner-city schools in Winnipeg.

Optical Prism recently spoke with Sylvestre about Mobile Vision Care Clinic and its future.

Q. Why are you so passionate about this business?

A. In the short time that we have been doing this, we have already seen incredible improvements in literacy scores among the children who were tested. By working with the schools, we have learned that roughly 80 per cent of children who are not reading at grade level by the end of Grade 3 will drop out by Grade 9, which has a significant impact on their quality of life as adults. When you consider that 80 per cent of learning is visual, it is quite easy to understand the impact that a program like this has on the lives of these children.
For myself, having been in the optical industry for over 20 years now, I have always felt that I had a pretty good job, but now, since we started this program I have a calling: to help reduce visual barriers for children so that hopefully we can be part of the larger effort to change the cycle of poverty so many find themselves in.

Q. Do you have any stories that stand out about how you were able to help someone through your service?

A. I am fortunate in that we get to see the benefits of our work on a daily basis. I cannot tell you how many times we have tested a child that was struggling in school, had been identified as a non-reader or functionally illiterate only to find that the child had a significant refractive error which meant they could not see much of anything they were being taught. Then only a few short weeks later, that child was provided with eyeglasses and the schools have reported not only that the child has started to read, but they have exhibited much greater self-confidence and their behaviour in the classroom has improved dramatically.

There really is no better feeling than seeing the looks on a kids’ face when they receive their first pair of glasses and you can see their expression as they see their surroundings clearly for the first time. This moment still gets to me everytime.

Q. What are your plans for the business moving forward?

A. My goal for the business is to continue to have the opportunity to help kids by removing barriers to success such as lack of access to care. By partnering with other groups and social supports, we hope to be able to expand our offering to make even more supports available to these kids in the hopes that we can truly impact their lives and help break the cycle of poverty that so many find themselves in.

While a very lofty target, my goal would be one day for lack of access to comprehensive vision care to no longer be a barrier for any child in Canada.

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