There appears to be a worrying mismatch between what non-English speaking Victorians understand about eye health and the actions they take to preserve their vision, according to the results of a recent research project that the Vision Initiative team commissioned.
The research focused on non-English speaking Victorians from the Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Mandarin and Vietnamese communities, to increase understanding of how they perceive eye health and vision care.
Overall the research results seemed to indicate that non-English speaking communities are knowledgeable about how to look after their vision with participants indicating that they should have regular eye examinations (every three years) and acknowledging that eye health is very important.
Despite understanding about eye health, non-English speaking communities are not being proactive about their eye health. Instead, waiting until they experience symptoms before getting their eyes tested. For Greek and Arabic communities in particular, even though 90 per cent of Greek and Arabic speaking participants said they should have an eye examination every three years, over 70 per cent said they would only have their eyes examined if they noticed a change in their vision.
These results are consistent with the 2011-12 Victorian Population Health Survey, which shows that 23.2 per cent of Victorians who speak a language other than English have never had an eye examination.
So then, if they know the importance of regular eye examinations and are concerned about losing their sight, then why are they waiting for symptoms before having their eyes tested? What are the barriers we need to tackle to ensure they are actively looking after their vision?
The research results highlighted a number of barriers that stop non-English speaking Victorians from getting their eyes tested, including:
- Cost: both of the examination and glasses.
- Language barriers: not being able to understand the optometrist.
- Time poor: Eye exams are time consuming; people are too busy; or appointments are made and forgotten about.
- Cultural or personal issues: When not addressed can unnerve or inhibit them.
- Confusion: About where to go, who to talk to or what the test involves.
The research results informed a range of multicultural resources on eye health and vision care, recently launched by the Vision Initiative. The resources are available in six languages and are designed to break down some of the barriers for non-English speaking people and encourage them to not wait for symptoms but rather be proactive about their eye health, have regular eye tests and save their sight.
When looking at the results of the research, we realised how a health system that we thought was easy to access still has many real and perceived barriers for people who speak a language other than English. The good news is that many of these barriers can be addressed and therefore our priority should be to work together to break down these barriers.