The scratched and taped spectacles that perch shakily across Diane Manila’s nose are older than she was when she got her first pair of glasses.
“I’ve basically been wearing ‘Coke bottle’ glasses since I was about four,” the North Philly resident told Billy Penn, “and now that I’m in my sixties, it’s gotten worse.”
For Manila, one of thousands of elderly city residents who struggle with poverty, the simple act of getting a new eyeglasses once every few years can feel like a luxury beyond reach. So she reached out to Broke In Philly to ask if there were any low-cost vision solutions out there for people like her.
Good news, Diane: there are several options for free or affordable eye care and glasses. Also: you’re not alone.
As part of the Broke in Philly collaborative, Billy Penn has been reporting on issues around economic mobility in the city. In a new series, we’re going deeper by asking the community what they want us to investigate. For this installment of Broke is Listening, we’ll be diving into access to vision care for those experiencing economic hardship.
Manila hasn’t gotten her eyes checked in what she estimates to be over six years. It isn’t her fault, she said. With no fixed income, she “pretty much drowns and despairs in poverty” and simply doesn’t have the money to prioritize her vision. But her eyes constantly hurt.
Her current glasses, the aforementioned 10-year-old ones, were bought thanks to friends and family who offered support after she called on social media for financial assistance.
“They were sixty bucks at For Eyes, with a discount,” she said. Even without “fancy features” like transition lenses or stylish Warby Parker frames, she’s found many prescription glasses can creep in the $200 range — and that’s not counting the associated cost of an eye exam.
In 2007, at least 5 million adults with a high risk of serious vision problems couldn’t afford eyeglasses, per the American Medical Association — and by next year, that number is estimated to be more than 50 percent higher. Living in poverty can also make sight issues worse: a causal relationship between vision loss and socioeconomic status/geographic location was noted by a 2015 National Eye Institute study.
Manila is technically entitled to regular eye exams under her Pennsylvania Medicaid insurance plan, Keystone First. However, that doesn’t mean she’ll get help if she fails the exams — the policy doesn’t cover prescription eyeglasses or prescription contact lenses if you’re 21 or older.
As a 61-year-old woman, Manila feels left out. She sees charity drives for vision care all the time, she said, but not ones she can take advantage of.
“Giving glasses to children, veterans, heck even puppies, is cute,” Manilla said. “It gets media attention. And of course, these groups rightfully deserve free vision care, but I feel like not enough organizations exist for people my age because we’re not as cute, we’re not as fun to watch on online videos.”
Happily, even if they’re not advertised as well, there are several low-cost and free solutions to eye care and eyewear for people of all ages in Philadelphia. Scroll down for a list of local and online resources we’ve compiled.
Contact email@example.com if you have other suggestions for this list. Want to submit your own question? Use the form at the end of this article.
Low-cost and free solutions to eye care and eyewear
The Eagles Charitable Foundation has been providing free vision screenings, eye exams, prescription glasses and follow-up care with an ophthalmologist to uninsured and under-insured children in Philadelphia since 1996 via the Eagles Eye Mobile van and Eagles Glasses Lab. So far, the ECF has distributed over 56,000 eyeglasses to kids during various school visits.
840 Walnut St.
Wills Eye, established in 1832 and the oldest continually operating eye care facility in the nation, provides copious free or heavily discounted services for patients who are eligible for financial assistance. These include routine eye exams, cataract surgeries, contact lens services, LASIK, glaucoma drug therapy, comprehensive low vision rehabilitation, oculoplastics and orbital surgery, pediatric and genetic ophthalmology, vitreoretinal disease care, neuro-ophthalmology services and more.
Vouchers for a free basic pair of new single or lined bifocal lenses provided by New Eyes for the Needy, a New Jersey-based organization, last for three months. You can apply online to see if you are eligible. The only catch? Only social service agencies can apply on your behalf — and you need to get an eye exam (which must include your pupillary distance measurement), prior to submission.
There are over fifty network doctor offices in Philadelphia that partner with VSP Global, an organization dedicated to providing eye-care insurance, high-quality eyewear, lens and lens enhancements and ophthalmic technology at an affordable cost around the world. Specifically, their Eyes of Hope gift certificate program ensures that adults and children with a family income at or under 200% of the federal poverty level have no-cost access to quality eye care and new glasses. Adults can receive the gift certificates at mobile eye care clinics and students under 19 can receive the gift certificates at participating offices in the city.
For over a century, Lions Clubs across the globe have served and advocated for the blind and visually impaired, making vision screenings, free eyeglasses and cataract surgeries accessible for those trying to break out of poverty. Per the Lions Club International directory (linked above), there are over 99+ Lions Clubs in the Greater Philadelphia area that may provide these services.
Trend Eye Care, located near Temple University and in Northern Liberties, provides eye exams, eyeglasses or contact lenses for no cost depending on insurance eligibility. The clinics accept most insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid.
ReSpectable is a nonprofit organization and online database that makes the search for free, high-quality used prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses and low-vision devices fast, easy and personalized. Shipping of glasses is also paid for by grant funding and private donations. The limit to how many glasses and devices you can order per year is capped at three per individual.
EyeBuyDirect online shop has over 1,000 prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses for women, men and kids at affordable and heavily-discounted costs. Bonus? The company offers a risk-free 14-day fitting period and provides a 12-month product guarantee.
833 Chestnut St.
Pediatric primary, specialty, urgent and hospital care is offered at Nemours DuPont Pediatrics for over a hundred different conditions, including visual impairments. Laser surgery, electroretinograms, eye exams and surgeries, ocular coherence tomographies, ocular ultrasounds, retinal photographs, screenings and visual field testing are provided by board-certified pediatric ophthalmologists. Nemours offers eligible families financial assistance via on-site counselors.
All high-quality prescription glasses for adults and children at this online retailer start at $39, typically a 70% price markdown from the original price.
51 N 39th St.
The Scheie Eye Institute, part of the Penn Medicine Network, offers a multitude of services for ophthalmological conditions, including age-related macular degeneration, amblyopia (lazy eye), blepharitis, cataracts, computer vision syndrome, diseases that affect the cornea and external areas, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, eye emergencies, eye stroke, eyelid tumors, glaucoma, inherited retinal diseases, low vision, ocular oncology, orbital tumors, ptosis (drooping eyelid), refractive errors, strabismus, Graves’ Disease, uveitis, ocular inflammation and more. Financial assistance is available for eligible individuals and their families.
Additional affordable resources for the visually impaired
919 Walnut St.
3827 Powelton Ave.
1500 Spring Garden St.
801 Market St.