When Petra heard that Special Olympics Slovenia was organising an Opening Eyes screening event in Laško, 140km from her home, she didn’t hesitate to bring 17 year old Luka along. She knew that he would receive high quality eye tests and glasses that would improve his vision significantly—a service simply not available in his locality.
The Opening Eyes programme
The Opening Eyes programme is made possible by a generous and long-standing global commitment from the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), which serves as the vision programme’s principle global partner. Through its financial support, and volunteer support in over 90 nations around the world, LCIF has been a global pioneer in highlighting the unmet health and social needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities, via the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Foundation “Mission: Inclusion” partnership platform.
It is clear that Opening Eyes is addressing an important gap in the system for athletes and their families. Petra said: “Luka's friends went to the vision screenings organized by Special Olympics in the past and they had many good things to say. My son and I had been going to examinations in the hospital in Maribor because he has had nystagmus since birth. However, now at 17, they said there is nothing more they can do, therefore we decided to come to Laško for a vision screening.”
Long drives that are always worth the effort!
Petra and Luka are familiar with long drives for Special Olympics activities, but they are always worth the effort. Luka trains with a Unified swimming group in Velenje, 40 kilometres away from their home town. Petra said, “It’s true it’s quite far away and we drive him three times per week, but he loves to go, and he is successful”. He wears prescription swimming goggles, because he had trouble swimming due to poor eyesight before. “He couldn’t even see the line at the bottom of the swimming pool before,” added his mother half-jokingly. Outside of the pool, Luka had not been wearing glasses, even though he could only focus a few centimetres ahead. Most of what Luka was seeing was blurry.
When Luka and Petra arrived at the Opening Eyes session, which was a ‘Train the Trainer’ event, experts thoroughly assessed Luka's vision, which was a challenging task due to his nystagmus. “He got glasses when he was little, but he doesn’t like wearing them. Maybe he’ll like the ones he got here,” smiled Petra. Luka confirmed with a happy nod while testing a fancy frame provided by global programme sponsor Safilo. After Luka’s assessment, the frame and the prescription are sent to the nearest Essilor lab. Essilor provide high quality lenses at no cost to Special Olympics athletes. There’s no doubt that Luka will be telling the story of his adventure to Laško as he shows off his new glasses to his friends!
People like Luka who have an intellectual disability (ID) often have difficulty accessing to quality health care. The Special Olympics health programmes, including Opening Eyes, is addressing this issue by providing health screenings at no cost and educating families and athletes. Perhaps even more importantly, these programmes provide continuing education to health care professionals in order to raise awareness of the special needs of people with ID when it comes to health care and prevention.
'Train the Trainer'
The event in Laško also hosted an Opening Eyes ‘Train the Trainer’ session. Supported by the Alcon Foundation, five Optometrists, Ophthalmologists and Orthoptists from four countries were trained in the best techniques for testing persons with ID and in how to organise Opening Eyes vision screenings at Special Olympics Events.
Special Olympics, together with critical global partners like LCIF and suppliers such as Essilor Vision Foundation and Safilo, looks forward to bringing the power of Opening Eyes, and its wider Healthy Athletes programme, to more and more athletes across Slovenia, and the world!