CHICAGO—Prevent Blindness, a leading eye health and safety organization, is joining the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and fellow eye health organizations across the globe, to raise awareness about vision and eye health issues and promote access to eyecare as part of “World Sight Day” on Oct. 12, 2023. This year’s theme, “Love Your Eyes at Work,” was chosen to help people understand the importance of protecting their vision in the workplace, and to call on business leaders to prioritize the eye health of workers everywhere, according to IAPB.

A new report from the International Labour Organization and IAPB, “Eye Health and the World of Work,” shows that more than 13 million people globally live with vision impairment linked to their work, with an estimated 3.5 million eye injuries occurring in the workplace every year. This amounts to 1 percent of all non-fatal occupational injuries.

In the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while 79 percent of civilian employees with access to vision care plans choose to participate in them, such plans were available to only 28 percent of civilian workers in March 2022. 

Further, highlighting health disparities, workers with higher average wages had greater access to vision care plans than those with lower wages (11 percent of those with wages in the lowest paid 25 percent have access, compared to 42 percent of those in the highest 25 percent), and employees of larger work establishments had greater access to vision care plans than employees of smaller ones. Importantly, these rates are likely even lower when factoring in agricultural workers, workers in private households and the self-employed.

And while vision care insurance covers comprehensive eye exams and some allowance for glasses or contact lenses, medical/health insurance generally covers services related to the health of the eye. However, this may not always cover preventive comprehensive eye exams, and generally does not cover routine eyecare related to determining eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions including the costs of the glasses or contact lenses themselves. For more information, Prevent Blindness offers the Health Insurance and Your Eyes resource on its website. 

Good vision and healthy eyes play a role in the workplace and help our workforce maintain their economic well-being. Without adequate access to eyecare through public and commercial insurers, employees may not be able to realize their full personal economic independence and productivity which can exacerbate inequities and shortcomings in the national and global economy.

“This World Sight Day, we call upon employers to examine the benefits they offer their employees, insurers to consider expanding their vision and eye health offerings, and federal and state policy makers to prioritize our nation’s eye health and safety in their health care policy actions,” said Jeff Todd, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “All those working to support themselves and their families, while contributing to America’s economy, deserve access to eyecare that can help them enjoy productive and engaging lives and reap the full benefits of their professional work.”

To kick off this year’s World Sight Day activities, Prevent Blindness will be hosting a World Sight Day reception on Sept. 21, 2023 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, DC. Featured guests include Peter Holland, CEO of IAPB, who will speak on the purpose of World Sight Day, and share highlights from the “Eye Health and the World of Work” report, and Vivian Fridas, the National Industries for the Blind public policy specialist and manager of the Advocates for Leadership and Employment Program. Fridas will share her personal journey as an individual with progressive sight loss and a child of immigrants, and the impact that workplace accommodations had on her ability to remain at work and to help others in a similar position. Members of the Congressional Vision Caucus are invited to attend.

A Congressional briefing on eye health and the workplace will also be a highlight of the World Sight Day activities. Prevent Blindness and the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, greater Washington’s vision health leader and educator, are also planning to host a free vision screening and eye health education event as part of World Sight Day activities later in the year.

Prevent Blindness and its affiliates will also be hosting various free vision screenings and education events across the country, emphasizing workplaces that include smaller businesses and the self-employed. These activities are supported by funding from Horizon Therapeutics and Genentech.

Leading up to World Sight Day, Prevent Blindness will be sharing personal stories on its social media channels from alumni of the Prevent Blindness ASPECT Patient Engagement Program. The program, which stands for “Advocacy, Support, Perspective, Empowerment, Communication, and Training,” equips participants with knowledge, skills and confidence to become advocates for vision and eye health at the individual and interpersonal, community and societal levels. Participants include patients, care partners and professionals.

For more information on World Sight Day, click here. To download free Prevent Blindness fact sheets on insurance and your eyes, click here.