Almost four out of 10 pupils attending a school for children with learning disabilities have no history of eye tests, according to new research from SeeAbility.
Publishing its findings today (18 September), the national sight loss and disability charity labelled this figure “alarming,” as children with learning disabilities are believed to be 28-times more likely to experience serious sight problems than other children.
According to the charity, an estimated 10,000 children in England attend a school for people with learning disabilities, and if these findings are mirrored across the UK, around 37,000 children with learning disabilities could be failing to receive the eye care they need.
The statistics, revealed in the ‘An equal right to sight’ report, have been released to coincide with the launch of the charity’s ‘Children in focus’ campaign which aims to highlight how it is unacceptable that a national plan to meet the eye care needs of children with disabilities does not exist.
Commenting on the campaign, chief executive of SeeAbility, David Scott-Ralphs, said: “We are calling on the government to make sight tests available in every special school in England. Children with profound disabilities may not be able to tell someone they have a sight problem, or get to a High Street optician so we should bring the much needed eye care to them instead.”
Through the campaign, the charity is calling on the public to sign a petition on its website.
Mr Scott-Ralphs explained: “This will be handed in to the Department of Health as this is a major health inequality that the government and NHS have a responsibility to address.”
The report draws on evidence which has been gathered through a research project it has performed in partnership with the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University. The project, which began in October 2013, has involved a team from the charity carrying out specialist sight tests on pupils from a number of schools for children with learning disabilities within London.
While there is no national plan at present, SeeAbility states that a number of children have already benefited from its sight testing programme, which has been extended to seven schools.
Mr Scott-Ralphs concluded: “The government needs to make it easier for children with disabilities to get a sight test. Making sight tests available in every special school in England would be a start in making the reforms needed and help thousands of children with disabilities.”