Opticians get Wise About Eyes




Date: 19 June 2009

Opticians get Wise About Eyes


If you support someone with a learning disability, have you thought about taking them for an eye test recently? There are well over a million people with some level of learning disability in the UK.[i],[ii] People with learning disabilities are more likely to have eye problems, yet often have difficulty getting good quality eye care. Leading eyecare charity SeeAbility (formerly The Royal School for the Blind) is working with optometrists to put this right.


Carers of people with learning disabilities may not realise that a person is not able to see, when the person themselves can’t communicate the problem. And for the person themselves, it may make little sense if they are, “going to a shop between the bank and butchers, being taken into a dark room with a stranger, being asked lots of funny questions and having lights shone into their eyes'”


A new education pack for optometrists will make it easier for people with learning disabilities to get the eye care that they need. The pack has been developed by Healthcall Optical Services in co-operation with SeeAbility and education and training provider Replay Learning. SeeAbility works to transform eye care and vision for people with learning disabilities through its eye 2 eye campaign which provides information, advice and support for people with learning disabilities, their carers, health and social services staff and eye care professionals. Paula Spinks-Chamberlain, SeeAbility’s Director of Information and Advisory Services says, “We have been working with Healthcall Optical Services across the UK for a number of years. Healthcall originally produced this pack for their own optometrists and approached us about sharing the resource with others across the UK.”


Dawn Roberts, Clinical Director at Healthcall Optical Services has been a driving force behind the new pack. She says, “When a person with learning disabilities is put at a disadvantage simply because they need spectacles but have never had the opportunity to have a sight test, action is required and this booklet is our attempt to address this situation.” Family carer Audrey Neate knows from her own experience that appropriate eye care can make a big difference to people with learning disabilities. She says, “When my son first went for an eye test he didn’t know his letters, so the standard test chart was pretty meaningless for him. In the early days he may as well not have gone for a test. Now though, an accurate measure of his visual problem means that he has been accepted into the Royal National College for the Blind.”


People have learning disabilities due to damage to the brain before, during, or after birth, or from genetic or chromosomal factors.”[iii] This damage can also cause eyesight problems. SeeAbility estimates that in the UK today 1 in 3 people with a learning disability have a sight problem. And, due to the very nature of their disabilities, this group has problems in getting access to eye care. Optometrist and co-author of the pack, Maggie Woodhouse, says, “The pack highlights the importance of eye examinations for people with learning disabilities, because they are at much higher risk of eye disorders.”


The pack contains practical advice for optometrists as well as background information about learning disabilities. Practitioners can find out about using a “‘person first’ approach when dealing with or discussing patients – they are ‘a person with a learning disability’ not ‘a learning disabled person'”. The pack looks at how to address issues that people may have about attending an optical practice, such as anxiety about an unfamiliar location. Combined with a lack of understanding of what is going on, this anxiety can lead to a person with learning disabilities performing less well than they would do if relaxed. There are tips on how to get someone used to the ideas in an eye test on the Look Up website, www.lookupinfo.org


The pack is going to be of use beyond the optical profession. National Director for Learning Disabilities Anne Williams says, “People with Learning Disabilities have a right to the full range of health services including excellent eye care. Seeability has championed their needs and this pack continues with that good work”. Hilary Young is Improvement & Development Manager, Learning Disabilities Service in the London Borough of Hackney. Having looked at the pack, she comments, “I’m very impressed. It is one of the most helpful and informative things I’ve read in a long time. In my personal experience, it was only when I moved to sensory services that I realized the prevalence of sight problems and the impact they could have on the individual. Although this pack is directed at optometrists, it could be a resource for other professionals. Social care professionals will find it helpful to look from the other side. People need to know how to support someone going for an eye test.”


The pack is also full of tips on communicating with people with learning disabilities. It highlights a useful tool developed by SeeAbility, the Pre Examination Questionnaire. Paula Spinks-Chamberlain explains, “We designed these forms because people with learning disabilities and those who supported them asked us to do so. The Pre Examination Form entitled ‘Telling the Optometrist About Me’ is designed to be completed before the sight test. The process enables people to prepare well for the test, plus it helps optometrists to know all of the important things about the person and how they may respond to certain situations. The ‘Feedback from the Optometrist about my eye test’ form helps to share important details about the sight test with those who need to know. Without this form, this information can fail to reach all carers. Accurate and accessible information about how the person will see best, why glasses have been prescribed and when they will help is crucial.”


The pack goes on to explain about communicating during the examination and using pictures and sign language. It suggests that opticians, “Throw routine out of the window, and work in the order that is most appropriate for the person” in order to ensure that the most vital tests are completed first if the person’s attention wanes.


Packed with handy and practical tips, the pack is being sent out to 8,000 optometrists across the UK to ensure that they, and their staff, are fully prepared when a person with learning disabilities needs an examination. Margaret Woodhouse says, “My hope is that the pack will encourage more optometrists to build up expertise in providing eye care to people with learning disabilities and help widen access.”


Paula Spinks-Chamberlain sums up, “Many people with a learning disability will not know they have a sight problem and may not be able to communicate this to others. Unidentified sight problems can seriously affect someone’s quality of life, lead to increased dependency and preventable blindness. SeeAbility aspires to shape better and more accessible eye care and vision services for people with learning disabilities across the UK. The eye 2 eye Campaign is all about making genuine change happen for people with learning disabilities and this resource will be of great value to this process.”


Look Up www.lookupinfo.org an education resource on eye care and vision for people with learning disabilities. Look Up provides information and advice to eye care and vision professionals on the needs of people who have a learning disability – and information and advice on the importance of eye care and vision to those who support people who have a learning disability. A pre examination form entitled ‘Telling the Optometrist About Me’ and a post examination form entitled ‘Feedback from the Optometrist about my Eye Test’ can be downloaded from www.lookupinfo.org.


– ENDS –

Issued by SeeAbility. For further information please contact:

Monica Cornforth on 020 8997 1261 or 07811 147 192


  • SeeAbility is the operating name for The Royal School for the Blind, a national charity which has for over 200 years provided support for people who are blind or partially sighted and have additional disabilities.
  • SeeAbility currently provides a range of services in; Birmingham, Bristol, Devon, East Sussex, Hampshire, Humberside, London, Sheffield, Somerset, Surrey and West Sussex.
  • SeeAbility offers a wide range of specialised residential, community and rehabilitation services for people with a visual impairment and additional disabilities. Our aim is to provide each individual with the support they need to develop essential life skills for greater independence and a fulfilling life.
  • SeeAbility’s eye 2 eye Campaign, a community-based initiative, is improving eye care and vision for people with a learning disability.
  • Look-Up www.lookupinfo.org provides information and advice on eye care and vision for people with learning disabilities.
  • SeeAbility’s Central Office is based in Epsom, Surrey. For further information call 01372 755000 or visit www.seeability.org

[i] Valuing People A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm50/5086/5086.pdf accessed 08/6/2009

[ii] The same as you? A review of services for people with learning disabilities

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/ldsr/docs/tsay-00.asp accessed 8/6/2009

Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability in Northern Ireland, http://www.rmhldni.gov.uk/index/published-reports/learning-disability-report.htm

[iii] Mencap Definition


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.