The Big Data Project

VisionServe Alliance and The Ohio State University College of Optometry provide groundbreaking data on the rate of blindness and low vision among two Age Groups: Phase 1 – Adults 65+ and Phase 2 – Working Age Adults 65+

VisionServe Alliance (VSA) and The Ohio State University College of Optometry partnered a project to analyze standardized statewide data and national reports of people who are blind or have low vision. 

The Big Data Project provides a national report, plus state- and county-level data on the rate of blindness and low vision among these two crucial age groups. These briefings also describe the rate of chronic conditions, quality of life, and disability indicators among older people with and without blindness and low vision. The National report and many state reports are currently available for both phases.

“We really have limited resources to address public health initiatives when thinking of things like vision—so determining where the most immediate needs are turns out to be really helpful so you can start to direct scarce resources to groups that could benefit the most,” said Dean VanNasdale, OD, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

The Big Data Project briefings are the only studies providing comprehensive descriptions of older people with vision impairment at the state and county levels in one document. The current eight states’ reports have been posted on the VSA website as publicly available downloadable PDFs.

“These are factual reports,” said John E. Crews, D.P.A., the former Lead Scientist with the Disability and Health Team in the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We can apply the content to funding, services, and advocacy efforts in any venue.”

The data sets included in the project are the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the American Community Survey (ACS).

Policymakers and advocates can use the Big Data Project briefings to develop programs to improve the lives and independence of older people with vision loss. President and CEO of NewView Oklahoma, Lauren Branch, said one of the biggest challenges in providing services to the low vision community is a lack of funding, which ties to a lack of data. “We’ve been talking about needing data for years,” Lauren said. “Those of us who have been serving in this field anecdotally know how large this population is, but we’ve never had this specific data to back up what we are saying.” 

This data will now give agencies like NewView Oklahoma a boost in talking with their community and policyholders. Lauren said this would genuinely express the needs and impacts their services do and can have on their population without being siloed.

According to the report for Adults 65+, 7.3% of elderly individuals report blindness or vision loss. This is not distributed equally across racial or ethnic groups or by state or county lines. According to Crews, the BRFSS survey handles 440,000 individuals. In this report, a breakdown of national visual impairment goes as follows:

  • White non-Hispanic: 6.1%,
  • Black non-Hispanic: 10.5%,
  • Native American: 14.2%,
  • Hispanic: 13.9%.

Respectfully, showing a significant impact on individuals with a visual impairment in minority populations. Additionally, the data reports 5.8% in Illinois, while in Louisiana, 12.4%.  “Even within this country, the prevalence of visual impairment varies from state to state,” Crews said. “We found even more variability from county to county.”

Looking at the state of Missouri, the overall prevalence of visual impairment is 7.3%. The counties’ prevalence ranges from 2.6% to 21.1% within the state. Crews said “the higher prevalence is typically in rural areas. Those areas tend to be under-resourced and people are poorer in those areas. They don’t have access to healthcare, eye care, and have virtually no access to anything that looks like vision rehabilitation.”    

With the groundbreaking insight of the findings of the first eight states, VSA is determined and dedicated to completing the project for the rest of the country, starting by recruiting an additional ten states for the next phase.

“The Big Data Project is VisionServe’s most ambitious undertaking to date,” said Lee Nasehi, President and CEO of VSA. “It is an honor to work with the distinguished Ohio State University College of Optometry to bring this project to fruition.” 

To learn more about VisionServe Alliance and the Big Data Project, contact Lee Nasehi.

VisionServe Alliance: VisionServe Alliance is a leadership collective of organizations and individuals in the US and Canada engaged in building a better world with and for people with vision loss through education, advocacy, research, products, and services. We provide education and opportunities for dialogue and collaboration to strengthen leadership skills, the quality of services, and the positive impact of our field on people of all ages living with blindness, low vision, and other vision impairment.