The Council’s Advocacy Days, which kicked off in April with a series of online discussions, provides an annual crash course on how to make a difference by communicating with local and state officials. This year, one of the key messages of Advocacy Days was that a conversation that combines data with stories of lived experience is the most persuasive kind.
“Personal stories give policymakers concrete examples of our concerns, while data gives them the big picture,” says Council Executive Director Denise Jess. “Analytics like the number of people impacted, which groups are disproportionately affected, how the group is doing compared to their peers, and what the costs to society are when issues are not addressed are powerful points of advocacy.” These data tools are particularly useful as Wisconsin residents make their voices heard during the state budget negotiations currently taking place in the State Legislature.
One of the Advocacy Days sessions in April focused on health care. Our advocacy on these issues is informed by a recent, in-depth report on the state of vision loss among the state’s older adults. “Wisconsin’s Older Population and Vision Loss: A Briefing” was prepared for VisionServe Alliance by The Ohio State University College of Optometry. This is the first-ever study to examine health, chronic conditions, health-related quality of life, and disability measures at the state level among older Wisconsinites who are blind or have low vision. The report also provides county-level estimates of blindness and low vision among older Wisconsinites.
The study was the cornerstone of the Advocacy Days presentation on health care given by Denise and Jaclyn (Jacci) Borchardt, CEO of the Vision Forward Association.
Jacci says context is important when reviewing the report. “We really want to drill this down to data and statistics as they relate to health as we think about different chronic conditions,” she says. “And we want to think about measures of health-related quality of life, and disability’s impact on people being able to complete different tasks with independence or with limited help. And we want to think about income levels and education levels as well.”
Some baseline data:
- An estimated 4.2% of older people in Wisconsin report severe vision impairment or blindness.
- Women over 65 in Wisconsin (4.5%) are more likely than men (3.7%) to experience vision impairment. Women comprise 59% of the state’s older population.
- The prevalence of vision impairment among African Americans over 65 in Wisconsin is more than triple that of their White peers, 12.1% compared to 3.6%.
- The prevalence of vision impairment among older people varies widely across Wisconsin counties, ranging from 3% to 13%, with high rates found among both urban and rural counties.
The study also focuses on the impact of these facts:
- Older people with vision impairment have lower levels of education and are poorer than older people without vision loss.
- 28% of older people with vision impairment in Wisconsin did not graduate from high school, compared to 8% of those without vision impairment.
- 30% of older people with vision impairment in Wisconsin have annual incomes below $20,000, compared to 12% among those without vision impairment.
- Older people with vision impairment report higher prevalence of chronic conditions such as stroke, arthritis, diabetes and kidney disease, and are twice as likely to suffer from depression.
- 55% of older people with vision impairment in Wisconsin report fair or poor health, compared to 20% of older people without vision impairment.
- 37% of older people with vision impairment in Wisconsin report 14 or more days of poor physical health in the past 30 days compared to 13% of those without vision impairment.
- 13% of people with vision impairment in Wisconsin report 14 or more days of poor mental health in the past 30 days compared to 6% of those without vision loss.
These statistics can provide a foundation to advocate for better vision services, more accessible transportation, more affordable health care coverage, and more.
The Council encourages you to fold this data into your advocacy conversations with elected officials. Here are the Council’s specific health care priorities during the current state budget negotiations:
- Support funding $135,600.00 for an additional vision rehabilitation specialist position.
- Support Medicaid (BadgerCare Plus) expansion.
- Speak out against Assembly Bill 148 / Senate Bill 245, which would require anyone enrolled in Medicaid to re-apply for services every six months.
“This data in tandem with your own story makes for a powerful advocacy combination,” Denise says. “Putting those pieces together is the most effective way to get the attention of policymakers.”
Read more about the Council’s Health & Long-Term Care Priorities.