Eye Care Activism Gets Digital Device Bill Passed in Maryland
reviewofoptometry.com, 27 April 2018
The new legislation aims to create guidelines on limiting students' exposure to screens.
Maryland schools are prepared to explore and institute protective measures for children’s vision, and it all started with one parent’s concern. The legislation, which the state’s governor signed Tuesday, mandates the schools work with health professionals to take preventative measures for digital device associated eye diseases.1 The measures will likely include guidelines for Maryland public schools on how long students can be exposed to screens and how laptops, tablet computers and digital readers can impact a child’s ocular health.
Maryland resident Cindy Eckard, chief advocate for the legislation, says she was raised in a “high-tech” family and has been working around computers herself for decades; however, concerning her own children, putting them in front of blue-light emitting screens all day is something she’s worked—maybe harder than anyone in America—to avoid. When she learned in a parent-teacher conference that, as early as fifth grade, children were being handed laptops and asked to put their eyes in front of them for hours, she inquired about the school’s health and safety guidelines, only to discover there were none.
“I went from that conference to my local board of education and they said, ‘No, we don’t have any [guidelines].’ So I went to the state and said, ‘Certainly, you have health and safety guidelines.’” It did not. “If my child is in a science class, I have to sign a contract that says my child will wear goggles and abide by the rules," Ms. Eckard explains. "If they’re using a Bunsen burner, that can be a very dangerous tool. And yet, digital devices, which are also known to be hazardous, have no safety regulations from the school.”
In speaking with optometrists and doing her own research, Ms. Eckard amassed a wealth of knowledge on blue light and its effect on sleep, myopia, the association between screen time and reduced blinks, which can lead to dry eye, and even concerns as dire as early macular degeneration.2-4 Armed with this knowledge, she took the cause to her state’s legislature in December 2015, launched a blog to document the progress of her cause and began publishing articles in The Washington Post, Psychology Today and The Baltimore Sun, all in an effort to raise awareness.
The Maryland bill stipulates "the State Department of Education, in consultation with the Maryland Department of Health, by June 1, 2019, develop health and safety best practices for the use of digital devices in school classrooms.”1
At this point, says Ms. Eckard, the legislation could benefit from input from the optometric community. “We talk about excessive screen time, but no one knows what that is. What defines excessive?” That’s where she hopes the doctors will weigh in and take this opportunity to “become more proactive and to get into their local schools themselves.”
1. Arentz D. Public Schools – Health and safety best practices—digital devices. Maryland General Assembly. mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?id=hb1110&stab=01&pid=billpage&tab=subject3&ys=2018RS. Accessed April 26, 2018.
2. Hauser W. Dry eye: a young person’s disease. Rev Optom. 2017;154(2):60-4.
3. Ford H. Seeing blue: The impact of excessive blue light exposure. Rev Optom. 2016;153(4):88-93.
4. Blue light and your eyes. Prevent blindness. https://www.preventblindness.org/blue-light-and-your-eyes. Accessed April 26, 2018.