Seasoned eye care experts and vision technicians-in-training gathered in the conference room at the Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital (SCEH) Vrindavan Centre to learn about a population of children oftentimes left out of school and community life. These eye care professionals are accustomed to restoring and improving peoples’ eye sight; perhaps enabling a farmer to return to sowing the fields, a weaver to return to her intricate handiwork, or a child to finally be able to read the letters printed on the blackboard with clarity.
But on this day, they met Supriya Das, Program Coordinator for Perkins India, and were prepared to take on a new challenge. Supriya shared about the needs of children who have a vision impairment but also have additional disabilities (MDVI). This combination of disabilities oftentimes leaves them out of the eye care system, school and community life.
During the training session, Das explained that children who have multiple disabilities have a high rate of vision impairment that is oftentimes overlooked and not properly assessed. When they’re excluded from vision assessments, these children ultimately miss out on essential early interventions that can vastly improve their learning and open possibilities throughout life.
Intrigued by learning about children with combined hearing and vision impairment (or deafblindness) one vision technician curiously asked, “but how can these children communicate?” Das went on to give an example of a child who is deafblind who might learn to communicate using tactile sign language, symbols, or objects, depending on the unique situation of the child – but stressed that every child can communicate given the proper support and intervention.
The training was offered to all staff of the hospital, not only those involved directly with assessment and rehabilitation of children. “There is a high possibility of our children with MDVI going unnoticed. Hence, it is not only the responsibility of the rehabilitation professionals working with these children but also everyone’s to be able to look for indications and features for MDVI so that these children can receive intervention and be connected to support services,” shared Das.
The benefits of raising awareness for all hospital staff was apparent as shortly after the last session, a young trainee approached Das and shared, “there is a boy like that from my village. Please include my village in the project so you can visit him.”
By partnering with the SCEH Vrindavan Centre, Perkins India is working to ensure these children who have multiple disabilities with a vision impairment (MDVI) are actively included in the eye health system. Together, they are implementing a new initiative, Project Identification and Intervention (IDI). This collaboration entails screening children at special schools, organized camps, and door-to-door in the villages surrounding Vrindavan, for vision impairment and other disabilities. Once these children are found and identified as having MDVI, Project IDI will connect them to early intervention services at the SCEH Vrindavan Center or at other local intervention centers