Speakers from Many Fields Focus on Children's Vision Issues in Energized Debate at University of Washington Bothell Symposium on VIsion and Learning November 8

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One hundred educators, optometrists, lawyers, computer program developers, students, and representatives from state and national politics came together at the University of Washington Bothell on November 8 to discuss and set directions for improving vision screening in schools. In agreement that more attention must be given to screening for near vision, speakers reviewed the present lack of understanding that distance vision is not the same as reading distance, then set a political agenda for making changes in Washington.

"We are failing our children so they are failing in reading and school and life. We need to fix this." Mary Pellicer, MD, Yakima, Washington

"Nobody learns to read at twenty feet away. Our children need our help," Metropolitan King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert was the first speaker, riveting the audience with her stories of children in her own family whose progress in school was hindered because nobody ever checked to see if they could focus on the words in their books.

This theme, how the vision skills children need to read must be part of any assessment conducted in schools, was echoed by Justice Debra L. Stephens of the Washington State Supreme Court. "It is a huge concern that more than seventy percent of people who enter the state's criminal justice system are non-readers. I applaud this group for beginning this discussion."

After the keynote by Mary Pellicer, MD from Yakima, four panel discussions and a demonstration of the work of UW Bothell computer science students filled the day-long conference. During the lunch break, Dr. Benjamin Winters, O.D., reminded the symposium of the paramount importance of vision in human development and behavior. "Eighty percent of what we know as humans comes to us through our eyes. In order to be fully human and to develop as we are intended to, our ability to see clearly at any distance is basic and essential."

Dr. Winters also joined the Vision/Medical panel in the afternoon, with Mary Pellicer, M.D., Thomas Lenart, M.D., Cory Manley, O.D., and Dr. Stephanie Johnson-Brown, O.D., from Chicago. A surprise member of the Education panel was William Mendoza of the White House Initiative on American Indians and Alaska Native Peoples, This panel also included Kathleen Ross, Rhonda Stone, Katie Johnson, and Kipp Campbell. Issues of social justice and law were discussed in the Social Justice panel, including Judge Donald Haley (Ret.), Judge Tom Tremaine of the Kalispel Tribal Court, Cathy Hardison, and Teodora Martinez-Chavez.

Undergraduate and graduate students of the computer sciences at the University of Washington Bothell who are studying with Professor Bill Erdly presented their current developing software for vision screening and vision games. Joining Professor Erdly on the final panel of the day to discuss technology research were Sohini Roi Chowdhury and Carisa Chang of UWBothell, Maureen Powers of Gemstone Foundation in California, Karen Preston and Alan Pearson, optometrists in Bellevue and Bothell.

Credentials for the panelists are available on the conference website, http://www.educatingyoungeyes.xyz.

The participants were also welcomed by Marni Brown, the University of Washington Student Regent, who told her own story of overcoming vision and reading difficulties. "You are doing such important work here," she said. "Thank you."

A second annual Symposium on Vision and Learning is planned for November 2015.

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Katie Johnson
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