Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Bringing Glasses to the Masses

by Elizabeth Ryan 

Tags: Science and Technology, glasses, productivity, eyesight, Johns Hopkins Public Health, Ode, Elizabeth Ryan,


Some 158 million people in the world can’t see clearly and don’t have access to glasses, but the problem doesn’t just affect their quality of life—it impacts the global economy as well.

According to Johns Hopkins Public Health, economist Kevin Frick and his colleagues studied the effect of poor vision on productivity and the economy, and concluded the global economy loses between $121 and $269 billion each year as a result of people not having corrective eyewear. Frick boils it down further for the magazine, adding: “For every person who doesn’t have glasses around the world we’re talking about $1000 worth of productivity lost every year.”

The problem is most prevalent in the developing world, where people don’t even have access to an optometrist. Physicist and social entrepreneur Joshua Silver tells Ode “in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa there is one optometrist for every eight million people. Silver is attempting to solve the vision crisis with his invention of  “adspecs” or adaptive spectacles. He explains that with simple training “people can make their own glasses. Using adaptive lenses, people can change the focus of the lens themselves. There are several ways to do this. The one I have developed involves spectacles that have chambers filled with silicon oil. If you fill the chamber with oil, the lens curves out; if you let the oil out of the chamber, the lens curves in. In this way, people can adapt the lens to their own vision needs.”

So far he’s distributed 30,000 adspecs, and he hopes to reach a billion people by 2020.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Public Health, Ode (article not available online)

Image by P/\UL, licensed under Creative Commons.