Sept. 20, 1996

Grant will help in training to test children's eyesight

In the future, those who test the eyesight of children from birth to age 3 will be able to learn the techniques from a CD-ROM, thanks to a grant received in early September by KU researchers.

Others whose vision is hard to test also will benefit, says Pamela Cress, program coordinator of Knowledge Dissemination for Vision Screeners, an outreach program at the KU Institute for Life Span Studies in Parsons.

Those include people with retardation or severe physical disabilities, as well as people who have become senile or demented.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research made the award. It will provide Life Span Institute researchers $373,839 over the next three years to prepare and field test the CD-ROM throughout the country.

Charles Spellman, senior scientist at the Life Span Institute at Parsons, will lead the effort. Co-workers on the project include Cress and Frank Carey, program assistant in the KU Department of Special Education.

Cress said KU's contribution is not that of generating vision tests. "What we have done is to compile tests, or assessments. We've put together a battery of them."

Cress is finishing a project in which she put together a similar instructional package on vision testing in videotape format.

But videotape has limits, she said. "Somebody in Montana could watch a video, and I'd have no way of measuring their competency after the training."

The new CD-ROM will permit such measurements.

Users who watch it will be tested intermittently. They will be presented with hypothetical situations, ones related to situations they've just learned about, and asked to answer questions about them.

"Through the use of multiple examples," Cress said, "you can have trainees exposed to far more different kinds of vision problems than I could present in a workshop format."

Cress knows the the workshop format well. In the early 1980s, Spellman and Cress went to nine states to train people who would, in turn, train others in vision testing. The two have been involved in vision testing since 1976.

But job turnover and deaths meant they were getting requests to go back and train again and again, Cress said. "Our attempt to put together the videotape-print package was an effort to address the large numbers of people who need this training. I can't do workshops for everyone."

Years ago, parents often paid little attention to the vision of their preschool children. Teachers or nurses would discover the problems when a child entered school.

Catching these problems before age 3 is now considered critical, Cress said. "Vision problems not addressed by then can have lifelong consequences."

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