Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Eye Conditions and Disabilities Among Native American and Alaska Native Populations

The National Native American Month commemoration is a timely opportunity to understand more about disabilities and, specifically, the prevalence and nature of eye conditions. “Compared with the general population in North America, Native American/American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations experience a disparate prevalence of eye diseases.” Earlier this year, a Review of the Prevalence of Ophthalmologic Diseases in Native American Populations was cited by the National Library of Medicine. This research report, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, reviewed the prevalence of eye diseases between AI/AN and non-AI/AN populations. Results showed that rates of retinopathy, cataracts, visual impairment, and blindness were higher for AI/AN individuals. The study concluded that, due to underinsurance and “geographic variability,” increased attention needs to be focused on expanding access to eye care in AI/AN communities. To boost awareness and knowledge of the needs of individuals in these communities, the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) provides a toolkit entitled “Understanding Disabilities in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities.” It includes information about disabilities, specific tribes, and resources. The kit is divided into sections on healthy living, education, independent living, vocational rehabilitation and employment, assistive technology, housing and facilities, and transportation. Overviews are included on federal disability laws, initiatives, agencies, and organizations supporting work with Native individuals with disabilities. The spectrum of disabilities is represented on the toolkit’s cover through four symbols depicting: Access for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired; Mobility Access: Communication Access for People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing; and Hidden Disabilities, such as epilepsy, developmental disabilities, mental illness, learning difficulties, and others not covered by the universal disability symbols.
Read more about the research report cited by the National Library of Medicine as A Review of the Prevalence of Ophthalmologic Diseases in Native American Populations. This overview is also published by the American Journal of Ophthalmology here, with links and information about ordering the full research article, which requires either payment or a subscription.
For information about the toolkit, read the NICOA webpage on Understanding Disabilities in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities. Download the toolkit here.