The Sight & Hearing Association is celebrating 80 years of identifying and preventing vision and hearing loss, in partnership with other professional and community organizations, by providing screenings, education and research.
Our Origins & History
The Sight & Hearing Association (SHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, was founded in 1939 as the Minnesota Society for the Prevention of Blindness, when Dr. Frank E. Burch, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota, recognized the need to end blindness from preventable causes. In 1979, the organization added the preservation of hearing to its mission when it merged with the Pre-School Medical Survey of Vision and Hearing (PSMSVH). PSMSVH was founded in 1959 by Grace B. Stoltze, a St. Croix Valley resident and community leader, who believed all children were entitled to medically oriented vision and hearing screening to detect treatable and potentially handicapping eye and ear conditions.
If you were born and raised in Minnesota, the Sight & Hearing Association (SHA) has touched your life, either through the vision and hearing screenings you received as a young child just starting school, as a teenager obtaining your driver’s license for the first time or as an adult, renewing your license. In the early 1970’s we were the authors behind the State Statute requiring early childhood screening before starting kindergarten and in the 1960’s we successfully lobbied for vision testing before obtaining and renewing your driver’s license.
For the past 75 years, SHA has been committed to enabling lifetime learning by identifying preventable loss of vision and hearing in all Minnesotans. Each year, over 12,000 children from birth through high school and over 5,000 adults receive vision and hearing screening from SHA. Unlike most health organizations, we are completely mobile so we come to you rather than you coming to us. You will find our health staff screening at metro area Head Start locations, childcare centers, family daycare homes, community centers, senior living communities, large and small corporations, Convention Center events, the Rotunda at the Mall of America, and at charter, public and private schools throughout Minnesota.
Over the past seven decades, we have screened more than two million Minnesota children and hundreds of thousands of adults. On average, 25 percent of preschoolers (3 to 5-year-olds) will have a vision and/or hearing issue that will require further medical attention and nearly 40 percent of school-age children (5 to 18-years-old) will need vision and/or hearing care to help them continue on through school.
Any low-income, uninsured or under-insured child we have screened and detected a vision or hearing issue are eligible for financial assistance provided by SHA for a free eye exam and/or eyeglasses, and for those with hearing impairment, we can provide hearing aids. Every year, over 1,000 children receive vision care assistance through our Vision Voucher Project for Kids and if not provided by their health insurance plan, dozens of children are eligible for hearing aids through the Hearing Aid Bank of Minnesota.
We also visit childcare centers and elementary schools to educate children on how to protect their vision and hearing through engaging, interactive demonstrations and take-home activities that the child can share with their family. With 85 percent of learning coming through our eyes and ears, education on protection and prevention of vision and hearing loss is an ongoing message – starting with preschool children and continuing on through our adult outreach. Adults receive glaucoma, visual acuity and hearing screening from SHA, along with education on how to prevent aging eye diseases and hearing loss and how to protect and preserve their vision and hearing throughout the rest of their lifetime. We know that if we cannot see or hear, we will struggle to learn and engage in life and this message is as important to children as it is to adults.
Today's Sight & Hearing Association is the only organization in the country working toward the prevention of, rather than the adaptation to, vision and hearing loss.