McKinsey Global Institute identified digital competency as one of four skill categories necessary for employees to “future-proof” their ability to work. In a survey of 18,000 people in 15 countries which was published in June, McKinsey looked at the kind of jobs that will be lost, as well as those that will be created, as digital transition, automation, AI, and robotics take hold. Improving digital skills will be vital.
Enhancing visual skills is overlooked in digital transformation planning. Historically our eyes were used primarily for distance activities, such as hunting and fishing. With the increase in literacy, we started spending more time reading books. Today we spend several hours a day in front of computer and digital device screens. The increasing use of abstract formulas, algorithms, computer software, and even common programs such as Excel spreadsheets, used in digital functions, require new digital skills, and bring new vision challenges.
There is an urgent need to address binocular vision challenges to enable the increase in digital workloads. Binocular vision disorder (BV disorder) affects over 12% of the population in developed countries, with some studies showing a prevalence greater than 30%. The numbers of symptomatic cases can be expected to increase from society’s expanded use of digital devices. Much of this is unaddressed.
Why does it matter? BV disorder affects the eyes’ ability to function as a team, to focus from near and distant objects clearly and comfortably, and to see a single image rather than overlapping and blurred ones.
Reading words and sentences is much easier than reading abstract formulas and digital programming. The latter is an enhanced vision skill that is rarely tested, but in today’s world, those skills will be vital for our new digital economy.
Neglecting the tests that diagnose BV problems, and the therapies and technologies that can resolve them, can be expensive losses to corporations, educational and other types of organizations. Annual economic damage assessments in the US alone are conservatively estimated at $236.5 billion. Moreover, this neglect can limit our full transformation to a digital economy.
I recently published a patient guide to the disorder to help the millions suffering from this problem: Binocular Vision Disorder: A Patient’s Guide to a Life-Limiting, Often Underdiagnosed, Medical Condition. In the guide are examples of some of the devastating losses to careers and the work force talent pool. Joseph Marasco, Ph.D., CEO of Verdimine, tells the story of a talented young man who dropped out of a pre-medical program because with his BV disorder he was unable to see sufficiently in 3-dimensions to tackle the stereochemistry part of organic chemistry, a skill required for the program. Joe says he felt helpless and saddened that we would have one less physician join society solely because of an addressable vision issue.
My inspiration for addressing BV disorder with better diagnostics and technology originated from my own experience. In 1979 I gained full funding from the University of Illinois to start a telecommunications program. This was in 1979. I was only 24. I foresaw telephone and computer communication developing into a single medium. My work was cutting edge. My advisors included the likes of John Bardeen, who won two Nobel prizes in physics. But the work with computers and algorithms presented heavy challenges to my eyes. It caused eye fatigue (in medical terminology it is called asthenopia.) I thought I must be bored. I dropped out of my breakthrough program, which is a common result without a proper diagnosis of BV disorder.
What can corporations do to address and manage BV disorder? The good news is that this is one public health issue which can be effectively resolved with minimal funding. Some basic actions corporations or other organizations can take include the following:
- Organizations can provide information to their employees regarding symptoms and sources for diagnoses and treatment. My book contains in-depth patient information and resources, including the military exam, which is an example of the form required by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board for the United States service academies and Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) and is publicly available.
- If organizations desire to be more proactive, they can bring some of these diagnostic and treatment options in-house through employee testing programs. They can direct vision programs to developing enhanced digital skill building, which is mostly unaddressed in exams and treatments today.
- Corporations can be instrumental in designing better technologies for diagnostics, treatments, and technologies. My new prism technology, for instance, was essential to resolving my own BV issues. We are on the frontier of these innovations. With advancements in optics and digital technology, significant inroads to improving diagnosis and treatment are readily achievable. These are lucrative new fields for corporations with large untapped markets.
BV disorder is a relatively easy and inexpensive public health issue to address. The financial returns to corporations just in improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and an expanded workforce of skilled STEM employees alone, will be significant.
This is also a wide untapped market opportunity with large returns for innovation.
Written by Denise Drace-Brownell.
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