Bill Erdly’s student researchers diagnose children with vision problems

Vision research team

Legions of children with undiagnosed near-vision problems — an estimated one in four nationwide — struggle in school without knowing why. A team of UW Bothell computer scientists is doing trail-blazing research to make that a thing of the past.

Computing & Software Systems Associate Professor Bill Erdly and a group of undergraduate and master’s students have not only helped lead a successful push to require K-12 schools across Washington to start testing kids’ up-close vision as well as distance vision. They’re also developing technologies that schools need — but don’t yet have — to screen for nearvision problems.

They’re working feverishly to create a suite of technologies that will enable school personnel to screen students accurately and affordably. They’re also developing vision therapy games designed to train the brain and eyes to communicate better.

“Right now, everybody’s trying to figure out, how are we going to do this en masse?” Erdly says.

It’s complex work. The screening tools they’re creating have to be simple and user-friendly. Data-sharing must comply with health care privacy laws. The tests and games they design for kids to take have to be visually engaging and display the same way on all computers, tablets and mobile phones.

They’ve gleaned insights from optometrists, teachers and the Yakama Nation, which has pinpointed near-vision problems as a cause of low test scores among tribal students and the reason many have been enrolled in special education classes.

Support from generous donors provides student research stipends and innovative project startup funds, enabling these innovators to work toward their goal – to create a Center for Children’s Vision and Learning that would be a global leader in research to give kids a brighter future by helping them see better and thrive in school.

These young researchers are making huge strides, yet they’re just getting started.

“It’s exciting to be doing research that has such huge potential to help children all over the world,” says Huaming Chen, a Computer Science & Systems Engineering master’s student. Huaming, who grew up in China, has met with officials in his native country to discuss their pressing need for near-vision testing technology.

This story was originally published in 2015. Since then, Bill Erdly has continued to receive support for his work in developing the EYE Center for Children’s Vision, Learning and Technology. He was recently awarded a $125,000 grant from the SEVA Foundation to support a mobile research vehicle.