By Chelsea Elliott, half Helen Founder and Executive Director
15 MAY 2021
Vision problems are common among children, with 19 million worldwide living with a vision disorder.1 Oftentimes, vision disorders have no noticeable symptoms,2 and as a result, children may not realize they see the world differently than others.3
As the Founder and Executive Director of half Helen (hH), people often ask, “What is half Helen?” The short answer — it’s my childhood nickname. Failed vision and hearing screenings in preschool lead to the discovery that I was permanently blind in my left eye and deaf in my right ear. In fourth grade, I learned about Helen Keller and her achievements and boldly surmised, “I am half blind and half deaf. I am half Helen!” Little did I know my childhood nickname would eventually characterize my life’s work.
Fifteen years later, I attended a West Austin Lions Club meeting where a guest speaker educated the club on the Welch Allyn® Spot® Vision Screener. Five minutes into the presentation and I had tears in my eyes. Had this device been available when I was in preschool, it might have detected my vision problem early enough to change the outcome.
Vision impairment is the single most prevalent disabling condition among school-age children. Untreated refractive errors, such as nearsightedness and astigmatism, are the number one cause of blindness in children. Learning about the Welch Allyn Spot Vision Screener changed my life and provided the catalyst for starting half Helen. I asked the West Austin Lions Club for hH’s first grant to purchase a Spot Vision Screener and started screening children in Austin-area schools. In 2017, hH joined advocacy forces with Lions Clubs across Texas to successfully pass HB 3157, which allows for schools to use the Spot Vision Screener to screen children of all ages!
One of my favorite impact stories is about a second grader named Avi. Avi’s parents had no idea she had blurry vision until she failed her vision screening at half Helen’s mobile optometry clinic. Avi then received a comprehensive eye exam and was diagnosed with nearsightedness in one eye and farsightedness in the other eye. hH provided Avi with a pair of glasses to correct her vision and now Avi is on a path to achieve her full potential. Her mother is grateful half Helen discovered Avi was having vision problems and treated her at no cost to the family.
In the Fall of 2020, we started construction on hH’s first mobile vision clinic: optical Prime by half Helen. We’re launching optical Prime using the premise of a tiny house on wheels to further our mission to improve the vision of school-age children through an innovative delivery of care. optical Prime eliminates the most common barriers to vision care by bringing it directly to children while they are at school.
half Helen is committed to improving school-age children’s vision and hearing through an innovative delivery of care that begins with using photoscreening technology to identify potential problems, connect families to medical care, and ensure children have access to corrective wear.
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