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People With Visible Eye Deformities Face Prejudice

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In the recent study to document people's perceptions, a photograph of a man with normally straight eyes was digitally altered to look like he had either crossed eyes or eyes that drift outward. A group of 212 college students was asked to grade the appearance of the person in the photographs.

The picture of the man with normally oriented eyes was rated more positively than the picture of the same man with his eyes altered on these characteristics:

  • attentiveness
  • competency
  • emotional stability
  • intelligence
  • leadership ability
  • communication skills
  • organizational ability

Having crossed eyes was rated more negatively than having eyes that drift outward, say the authors. And students viewing the picture of the cross-eyed man also rated him as being more humorous than the version of him with straight eyes.

"We have documented that people with strabismus have a right to feel that people do view them differently," Olitsky says. "It has been documented subjectively and objectively that people may benefit from surgery in ways other than purely correction of their visual function."

Olitsky sees surgery to correct this problem in adults as a reconstructive procedure rather than a cosmetic one. He hopes his study and others should help change the policies of insurance companies and the beliefs of medical professionals who might deny patients this type of corrective surgery.

"You shouldn't allow physicians to tell you -- just because you might not achieve certain things visually that we would ideally like you to achieve -- that surgery can't benefit you," Olitsky tells WebMD readers. "If your insurance company says no, they should know that there are studies in the literature like this one that indicate this surgery is necessary."

David K. Coats, chief of ophthalmology at the Texas Children's Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agrees with Olitsky. "People in the field of ophthalmology who manage strabismus and strabismus surgery for a living have always had the gestalt feeling that strabismus had a pretty profound impact on people's lives, both socially and vocationally. ? [The] study nicely demonstrates what we believed was the case, in fact is the case: strabismus is a very detrimental thing for anyone to have." Coats reviewed the study for WebMD.

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