Prevent Blindness NC is on a mission to help fairgoers identify eye problems early

Vision screening at the 2019 N.C. State Fair

A five-minute stop in the Education Building during the fair could be the most important thing you do on your annual visit to the fair.

For more than 20 years Prevent Blindness North Carolina has set up a booth inside the Education Building offering free vision screenings for adults. Their services may have helped thousands of fairgoers detect vision loss or, even more importantly, disease issues that may lead to vision loss.

“At the fair we do two types of screening,” said Edwin Jeffords, president and chief executive officer of Prevent Blindness NC. “The first is an acuity screening, which is a test that checks how well you see the details of a letter or symbol from a specific distance. The second type of screening we offer is a retinal screening. This takes a picture of your retina and allows us to screen for diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Many eye diseases show no signs or symptoms in the beginning stages and can be treated more successfully if caught early.”

Both screenings are non-invasive and require no eye drops. The retinal screening takes a picture of your retina so the image can be evaluated by an eye doctor for early signs of disease.

Prevent Blindness NC President and Chief Executive Officer Edwin Jeffords giving a vision screening at the 2019 NC State Fair

With more than 30 percent of their annual adult screenings taking place at the N.C. State Fair, the event is an important one for the nonprofit. “Our goal is to reach people before preventable blindness strikes, the annual fair is an important event to help us meet this goal with our adult screenings,” Jeffords said.

The organization screens more than 32,000 preschool age children at 600 sites per year and works to train school nurses to provide vision screenings to grade school children. The equipment and screening processes for children are different than for adults. Which is why the nonprofit focuses on adults at the fair.

“Vision insurance and services can be expensive,” Jeffords said. “The cost can keep people from getting regular eye care. Not only do we offer these screenings for free, we also provide vouchers for follow up visits to those that cannot afford glasses or full eye exams.

“Not having the fair in 2020 meant that we were unable to reach as many people with our screenings last year. Which makes it even more important this year. All of us adults tend to put our health on the back burner from time-to-time. A five-minute stop during your visit may help prevent problems with your vision before they happen.”

Not only is the fair important to Prevent Blindness NC’s mission to reach people with its services, the fair also serves as its biggest fundraiser. The organization’s offices is located near the fairgrounds and during the 11-day run of the fair, the group parks cars in its parking lots of Westchase Boulevard for a small fee. Many fairgoers will choose this option instead of the free parking offered in Carter-Finley Stadium as another way to give back to the community and support a local nonprofit.

“In addition to getting the 75 to 80 volunteers to offer screenings in our fair booth, we are also filling 175 shifts for volunteers to manage our parking lot,” Jeffords said. “As a nonprofit, the money we make from our parking lots helps further our mission, it is our biggest fundraiser and invaluable.”

Prevent Blindness NC will offer vision screenings from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. daily in the Education Building. The risk assessment, acuity screening and retinal screening take about five minutes. Fairgoers will have the results of the acuity screening before they leave the booth. Results from the retinal screenings will be available a few weeks after the fair.

About Funhouse

On the blog I go by Fun House (AKA Heather Overton). At the Fair you'll find me checking out the blue ribbon winners or hanging out in Heritage Circle. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite part of the Fair, but I can tell you one thing I hate - leaving it on the last day. I can't wait for opening day!

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