Bringing Glasses to the Masses

| March-April 2010

It’s estimated that 158 million of the world’s citizens experience vision loss and don’t have access to glasses. And the impairment doesn’t just affect a person’s quality of life—it has an economic impact.

Johns Hopkins Public Health (Fall 2009) reports that economist Kevin Frick and his colleagues studied the effect of poor vision on productivity and discovered that the global economy loses $121 to $269 billion annually due to a lack of corrective eyewear. To put it another way, for every person denied a pair of glasses, $1,000 is lost.

The problem is most prevalent in the developing world, notes physics professor and social entrepreneur Joshua Silver. He tells Ode (Nov. 2009) that “in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa there is one optometrist for every 8 million people.”

Silver has invented “Adspecs”—simple, highly affordable, nonprescription spectacles with adaptive lenses controlled by chambers of silicone 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,” he says, stressing that with just a few simple directions most anyone can adjust these glasses.

So far Silver has distributed about 30,000 Adspecs, which run about $19 a pair and are paid for by donations to his nonprofit, Global Vision 2020. The goal is to distribute a billion pairs in the next 10 years.