Sponsor post: Dr. Manfred Mörchen, Regional Advisor for Inclusive Eye Health, the Philippines of CBM, our 10GA Programme Partner, writes on disability inclusive practices for strengthening comprehensive eye care.
Blindness and low vision have been identified as an important global cause of the years lived with disability, and empowerment of people who are blind or have low vision is one of the key cross-cutting principles of the WHO Global Action Plan 2014-2019 (“Universal Eye Health”). As only 2% of people in lower income countries have access to basic services and rehabilitation, CBM strives to improve the access for everybody, including people with all types of disabilities, to eye health programmes and to make sure that people with unavoidable blindness and visual impairment have access to low vision services and rehabilitation.
I was trained as an ophthalmologist in the nineties at a tertiary eye hospital in Germany, equipped with all types of state-of-the art expensive equipment. One day, when celebrating World Sight Day, we invited a self-help group of patients with unavoidable visual impairment. They were impressed by the technical possibilities but told us that it was difficult to orientate in the eye department as the building had obviously not been designed to facilitate access for people with visual impairment.
It strikes me that 15 years later, we still struggle with the same barriers to a holistic eye health service. Eye hospitals are designed without involving people with disabilities in planning. Access to phaco surgery is now often easier than access to low vision devices and people whose sight cannot be restored are constantly not referred to rehabilitation. Again, much more work is needed to mitigate barriers for people with additional impairments: How do we communicate with a cataract patient who is hearing impaired? Do we make sure that patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa and Usher Syndrome are referred to a hearing test? How do we communicate with a patient with Down Syndrome and refractive error?