ROCHESTER, New York — According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 517 million people in low-income and developing countries are visually impaired simply because they do not have access to treatment. Accurate vision can impact all facets of life, from success in early childhood education to career development and safety. Eyeglasses represent the single largest solution for imperfect vision and blindness globally, able to correct 49% of the global affliction of visual impairment. Czech startup company “DOT Glasses” is working to reduce the disparity in access to affordable eye care that contributes to the cycle of poverty.
Self-described as “the first sustainable solution to the world’s vision problem,” this start-up has developed a business model to distribute prescription eyeglasses to remote and underdeveloped communities. Their adjustable one-size-fits-all frame and innovative lens concept, designed by a joint venture of AKKA Technologies and Mercedes-Benz, has earned a Red Dot Design Award for Product Design and an SDG Award. Through the last several years, DOT Glasses has worked to create a cost-friendly option for low-income communities that constitute 100% of its end customers.
Why are Glasses Important?
Visual impairment is not just a health concern; it also has economic, educational and safety consequences. For reference, in Tanzania alone, 71% of the farsighted population struggles to do near work, including sewing, reading and cooking. Yet, only 6% of farsighted Tanzanians have eyeglasses, according to Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The positive effects of providing eyeglasses to under-resourced communities have been well-documented. Eyeglasses enhance learning ability, increase productivity and create a safer environment in their homes and on the road, according to VisionSpring.
Ability to Learn
Education is a cornerstone in the fight against poverty, with some estimates showing that 171 million people could rise out of extreme poverty if all students left primary school with basic reading skills. Each additional year of schooling can increase earnings by roughly 10%.
In schools, glasses contribute to consistent attendance and improve learning outcomes by 33% to 50%, according to DOT Glasses.
Ability to Earn
According to VisionSpring, in the workforce, uncorrected vision impairments have cost the global economy an estimated $272 billion per year, with low and low-middle income countries disproportionately affected.
Glasses can increase work productivity by 25% to 30% and even catalyze an income boost of 20% to 25%, according to DOT Glasses. DOT Glasses user Eugenie, from Madagascar, explains that sewing was the main source of income for her family, but her worsening vision made it harder and harder to do her job. With her new glasses, she could continue her work and provide for her family, DOT Glasses reported on its website.
Safety is also a significant factor when analyzing the necessity of accurate vision. In fact, 60% of road accidents in India are caused by impaired vision. Senthil, an India-based professional driver and DOT Glasses user, credits his glasses with keeping him safe from fatal road accidents that occur every four minutes in New Delhi, according to DOT Glasses.
The DOT Concepts
DOT Glasses has developed two readily available concepts for consumers and patients. First, the Radical Concept is an all-in-one affordable eye care solution, containing complete kits with vision testers and a selection of lenses. This concept simplifies the process of testing and lens selection by treating basic refractive errors without the added cost of expensive equipment and professional optometrists.
Alternatively, the Classical Concept works with previously existing vision care infrastructure. This approach enables DOT Glasses to provide professionals with a standardized set of lens powers to accompany its universal frames, according to its website. With this concept, eyeglasses are available within minutes of the exam, eliminating the risk of lost orders, shipping delays, patient travel expenses and high inventory costs.
DOT Glasses’ Small Vision Kits contain everything needed for an accurate vision test and include 20 customized eyeglasses. Frames are durable, with scratch-resistant polycarbonate lenses. Distribution of these glasses goes through partnerships with nonprofits, NGOs, government entities, commercial channels and micro-entrepreneurs, where glasses then find their way to individual consumers.
Door-to-door service offers the most direct method of distribution, wherein a field agent brings the kits to each household. Another option involves introducing a fixed location that represents a long-term presence where patients can go for their basic eye care needs, according to the DOT Glasses website.
DOT Glasses also promotes “Vision Camps” – full-day events involving vision testing and dispensing glasses to entire communities. Vision Camp Kits hold the same contents as its smaller counterparts, with enough supplies for 120 people. Each kit contains testing tools and microfiber clothes and pouches that can be branded with partner logos.
DOT Glasses’ work against global poverty represents a concerted effort to reduce social inequalities. The disparities in access to basic healthcare, including affordable eye care, are huge contributors to the continued poverty levels in developing nations. The efforts of companies such as DOT Glasses will bring global attention to these lesser-known contributors to poverty.
– Carly Ryan Brister