Blindness is the most feared disability, says Dianna Bonfiglio, who left the corporate world 10 years ago to help prevent it. Bonfiglio worked in marketing and finance for companies like Xerox and the Oklahoma City Redhawks before jumping into non-profit work as the president and CEO of Prevent Blindness Oklahoma. With only 17 part-time screeners and six full-time staff, Prevent Blindness screens more than 300,000 children in schools across the state. Bonfiglio runs the organization with money only from private donations, foundations, grants and funds from the organization’s thrift store. Oklahoma Magazine caught up with her to discuss how she does it.
Oklahoma Magazine: What does Prevent Blindness do?
Dianna Bonfiglio: We provide free vision screenings for children in the state of Oklahoma; that would include all schools as well as Head Start programs and daycare centers.
The reason we focus on screenings with children is because many of them do not know they have a vision problem because that is the way they have always been viewing the world. We’ve heard children say, “I didn’t realize there were leaves on the trees.” They thought it was a big blob. “I didn’t’ realize there were wires that connected the poles together.”
Detection of vision problems early is really the key. Eighty percent of what a child learns is presented to them visually and 86 percent of children never receive a comprehensive eye exam. If vision is the problem, early detection and proper correction can prevent permanent vision loss and possibly negative attitudes toward school. Many children will struggle in school needlessly when simple vision correction could be the solution.
OM: What is the most rewarding thing about working at Prevent Blindness?
DB: When a parent calls, or we receive a thank you letter from a nurse or parent letting us know how through our vision screening a child’s vision was saved. What we say in the organization is, “We don’t save lives, but we change them.” We have an impact on them.
We want every child to have every tool available to him to be successful. Some children need glasses and some need surgery to correct their vision.
OM: How many screenings do you do?
DB: During the 2011-2012 school year we provided free vision screenings at over 1,200 locations, screening 301,151 children throughout the state of Oklahoma.
OM: What is the impact of vision impairment?
DB: Blindness is the most feared disability and vision disorders are the fourth most common disability in the U.S.; nearly one-half of which were avoidable. Permanent damage, or even blindness, can result if poor vision or any type of eye disease such as strabismus (cross eye) or amblyopia (lazy eye) goes undetected in the early years of a child’s life. We are also advocates and provide education about wearing eye protection; from children playing basketball to mowing your yard.
Eye health is extremely important and we often take our vision for granted. We will go visit the dentist every six months and get our teeth cleaned and checked for cavities because we know the sooner we catch a cavity and take care of it, the less tooth decay we will have. Preventive care is the same for vision.
OM: How many referrals were you able to make?
DB: Of the 301,151 children screened, 46,863 were referred with possible vision problems for a comprehensive eye exam with their local optometrist or ophthalmologist.
OM: What do you want people to know about Prevent Blindness?
DB: We may be the best-kept secret in Oklahoma because the people we help are the children and the people we see are the children. The public may not know we are leading their school’s eye screening program because the HIPPA law prevents us from interacting with the parents unless they contact us. As a non-profit, we can only continue our good work with the support of the public. We are dependent on the schools to communicate our service to their community.