Orange County needs a pediatric vision program for low-income children, and the service should probably be on wheels, according to the Children & Families Commission of Orange County.

A pediatric mobile unit would make it easier for parents to overcome barriers and obtain eye exams, diagnoses and glasses for their children. A “vision van” would join the ranks of other specially equipped vans that deliver dental care, asthma treatments and primary care services to young patients around the county.

“We’re finding that it’s difficult for families in low-income communities to get to optometry and ophthalmology offices. Transportation is one of the biggest issues in health care,” said Kelly Pijl, the commission’s director of external affairs. The commission focuses on health and school readiness for children through 5 years old.

Data collected by school nurses show that 20 percent of the county’s preschool children have vision problems, including blurry vision (astigmatism) as well as both nearsightedness and farsightedness. Meanwhile, there are few pediatric vision specialists, limited resources for uninsured patients and low reimbursement rates that make it hard for families with public medical insurance to get vision care, Pijl said.

Failure to respond early enough to bad vision has an obvious effect on school performance. “If children’s vision isn’t addressed earlier, kids are sitting in the back of the classroom and can’t see the whiteboard,” Pijl said.

The commission has yet to give final approval but is considering a number of options for a van-based vision program as well as partnerships with CalOptima and specialists such as the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UC Irvine and the Southern California College of Optometry.

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and lecturer in the UC Irvine literary journalism program. You can reach her directly at

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