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St. Albert Lions provide free vision screenings for kids

Tests offered as part of Lifestyle Expo at Servus Place, April 19-21
MAGIC BOX? — St. Albert Breakfast Lions Club president Christopher Holmes demonstrates how to perform a vision screening test using a Plusoptix device. The St. Albert Breakfast and St. Albert Host Lions clubs have teamed up to offer free vision screenings to children this April 19 to 21 as part of the 2024 St. Albert Lifestyle Expo at Servus Credit Union Place. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert Lions Club members hope local kids will come to Servus Place this weekend to get their eyes checked by a smiling, squealing box.

The St. Albert Breakfast and St. Albert Host Lions clubs have teamed up to offer free vision screenings to children this April 19-21 as part of the 2024 St. Albert Lifestyle Expo at Servus Credit Union Place.

About one in four children have vision problems that can be corrected, said Breakfast Lions president Christopher Holmes.

But many parents don’t or can’t take their children to eye exams, and many kids don’t realize they have vision problems to fix, said Derwin Bartlett, who chairs the vision program for District C-1 Lions Clubs (which include the Breakfast and Host groups).

“If a child sees a blackboard as blurry, they don’t tell anyone because they think everyone sees it that way,” he said.

“About 80 per cent of learning is done visually, so if a child can’t see well, they can’t learn well.”

Tester box

Bartlett said Lions International has a longstanding commitment to public service related to vision that dates back to 1925, when blind-deaf advocate Helen Keller challenged the group to serve as “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

The District C-1 Lions bought four Plusoptix vision screening devices last year for use by area clubs to support vision-related projects, Bartlett said. Such devices are popular among American Lions clubs through the KidSight USA initiative, but relatively new in the Edmonton region.

Holmes said he heard about the devices and volunteered to have the Host and Breakfast Lions test them out.

Holmes said Lions Club members will use the devices to give kids free vision screenings at the lifestyle expo. The screenings are open to anyone aged six months to 12 years, do not require eye drops or physical contact, and take about 30 seconds.

To do the screening, Bartlett said an operator aims the camera-like device at the child’s eyes, asks them to look at the hexagonal nose of the smiley face painted on its lens, and pushes a button. After making a strange squealing noise, the device takes an infrared scan of the child’s eyes and analyzes them for signs of near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, lazy eye, and crossed eyes. It then prints out the results, along with a recommendation whether to see an optometrist for a formal eye exam.

Troy Brady, an Edmonton optometrist familiar with the Plusoptix device, said these free vision screenings were a great idea, but no substitute for a formal eye exam, which tests for additional vision problems (such as infection). The Alberta Association of Opticians recommends children get an eye exam at six months, three years, and every year from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Anyone who is under 19 and has an Alberta health-care card can get one free eye exam a year.

“With children, often their eyes can change quickly,” Brady said, and a sudden growth spurt can change the shape of their eyes and their need for glasses.

Holmes said the free screenings will be available throughout this week’s expo at the Lions Club booth, which is next to the petting zoo. He planned to partner with schools and the St. Albert Farmers’ Market to perform more free screenings later.

Questions on the screenings should go to [email protected] or [email protected].

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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