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Children's Vision Improvement and Learning Act

Location: Washington, DC

CHILDREN'S VISION IMPROVEMENT AND LEARNING ACT -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 11, 2005)


Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to call attention to the travesty of preventable vision loss in our nation's children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that millions of children do not receive the vision evaluations recommended by top medical organizations, placing them at greater risk for permanent vision loss, as well as physical and emotional difficulties.

Undiagnosed vision problems can lead to permanent vision loss and learning difficulties.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a vision evaluation in the preschool years. Yet, the study finds that only 1 in 3 children received one before entering kindergarten.

It is a national disgrace that only a small number of children are actually receiving the preventative care, recommended by our own medical guideline, they need to ensure healthy vision.

One eye doctor who read the report called it, "a wake-up call to both primary care providers and eye care professionals." It is clear that we must do better.

Mr. Speaker, in many cases, vision loss can be avoided with early diagnosis and treatment. For the sake of our nation's young people, we need to make sure that children receive the necessary preventative vision care.

Amblyopia is a serious vision problem that affects nearly one-half million preschoolers and is the leading cause of vision loss in young Americans. I recently met with seven-year-old Kennedy Biederman. She is a prime example of what can happen when a child doesn't get proper visual evaluations.

Throughout her childhood, no one noticed that Kennedy couldn't see well. Despite multiple visits, her pediatrician did not notice, her teachers did not notice and neither did the nurses that screened her vision at school. Like many others, she simply slipped through the cracks.

At age 5 ½ , Kennedy happened to visit an eye doctor because of a small injury. The doctor performed an eye exam and diagnosed amblyopia. He also found that Kennedy was legally blind in her left eye and that her "good" eye had only 20/80 vision. "I don't know how she was even functioning at school," her father said.

Mr. Speaker, we have the best medical system in the world. We must do better so that more children don't wind up in the same position as Kennedy. The best way to do that is by making sure that children receive an eye exam from an eye doctor.

An eye exam measures a number of visual skills that are critical to a child's healthy vision, such as using both eyes as a team, the ability for the eyes to focus properly when reading a book or viewing a computer, and the ability for the eyes to move properly when reading across a page of print.

As the National Amblyopia Youth Spokesperson, Kennedy, and her parents Jason and Jill Biederman, will have a great opportunity to share their story. I commend them for their efforts to raise public awareness and believe that with their help, we can make a difference in the lives of children nationwide.

The CDC states that approximately 1.8 million children under the age of 18 (2.5%) are blind or have some form of visual impairment. Many cases of visual impairment could be eliminated simply through more timely diagnosis and treatment.

In order to address this egregious situation, in the last Congress I introduced legislation to provide states with resources they need to increase the number of children that receive an eye exam. More than 100 of my colleagues cosponsored the legislation, as did more than 60 organizations nationwide.

Yesterday, I proudly reintroduced, the Children's Vision Improvement and Learning Act, H.R. 2238.

This bill would work to address these issues by offering grants to all states to provide eye exams and necessary follow-up care; developing and distributing educational materials on state children's vision programs; and ensuring that these new initiatives complement, not supplant, services provided under Medicaid and SCHIP.

As Congress works to improve the educational opportunities available to children in this country, the need to remove outside impediments to learning must be addressed to achieve long-term success.

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