In the ever-growing heap of discarded stuff which technology has rendered inefficient, slow and antiquated now rests the Big E or Snellen eye chart. In its place is a handheld device akin to a digital camera with sophisticated optics, infrared light scanning, unique software and imaging technology. Named Spot, this portable vision tester can quickly detect ophthalmological issues like near-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia), eye misalignment (strabismus) and a host of other eye conditions.

Credit local Lions Clubs for having raised thousands of dollars to purchase one. There’s a Spot unit jointly owned by the Blacksburg Host Lions Club, Christiansburg Lions Club and Blacksburg Breakfast Lions Club, and another one being acquired by the Rich Creek Lions Club and Giles Breakfast Lions Club.

For close to a century, Lions Clubs all over the world have dedicated time, energy and fund raising efforts to preventing blindness and improving eye health. From the annual dog walk and a booth at Steppin’ Out to special fund drives and generous member donations, our Lions Clubs have these two Spots for the benefit of New River Valley residents, especially children.

“Right now we are learning to become proficient with Spot,,” states Steve Forkner, treasurer of the Blacksburg Host Lions Club. “I’m often the test guy. No one wants to participate until they see it done on someone else, so I know it doesn’t hurt.”
According to Elaine Cook, sight conservation chairman for the Blacksburg Host Lions Club, Spots are already used on a regular basis in Salem and Botetourt schools. “We are not quite ready, but with practice and more small events [mostly at day care centers now], we are excited to be able to offer easy vision screenings in schools all over the New River Valley.”

Three Spot devices can test around 1,200 students in six hours. From a list supplied by the school of pupils by name, birth date and gender, it takes less than a minute to scan the eyes and generate a printout of results. If a child needs further testing for eye glasses or a condition detected, that is noted on the printout. Spot results do not prescribe anything.

“When parents sign the permission slip to have the test, they also commit to further testing if so indicated,” Cook explains. “And if a family is financially-challenged to do so, the Lions Club can assist. For personal security, after all the tests are complete, and each student has a printout, the machine is erased of all data before shutting it down.”

Spot can also be used for adults, though pupils tend to shrink with age, making it more difficult to get accurate results. Cataracts and artificial lenses cannot be screened, so children are the best individuals who stand to gain the most from early intervention.

Lewis Haldren, president of the Rich Creek Lions Club, says they’ve been borrowing one from Roanoke to do some local eye testing and become familiar with Spot. In addition to being able to use one on loan, there will soon be one permanently in the county. “With a $2,000 grant from Carilion, we’re raising the another $5,000 and change to purchase Spot,” explains Charlie Herbert, club coordinator for the Giles Breakfast Lions Club. “We are extremely excited about getting this, and I’ve already met with the back-to-school program committee. With our own and one from Roanoke, we can easily screen twice the number of kids we did last year.”

As much as 80 percent of early learning is visual, and detecting eye conditions as soon as possible is imperative for success in school and life. Spot is an amazing breakthrough in vision technology, and Lions Club members are amazing for their unwavering commitment to serving the vision health of children and residents in the New River Valley.

By Joanne M. Anderson

Photos by Tom Wallace