History of the IOA

History of the IOA

The International Opticians Association (IOA) is an association dedicated to the enhancement and development of the optical profession around the world. It acts as a forum for optician practitioners, industry partners and educators to come together and discuss topics which have an impact on the development of the profession and the delivery of world class eye care and quality vision. Its biennial convention attracts opticians from across the IOA’s member.

The current president is Fiona Anderson and the IOA council, made up of one representative from each of the member states, is working towards harmonising qualifications between member states, in particular with those in the UK.

The roots of the IOA can be dated back to 1944 when an affiliation commenced between the British and American Guilds of Dispensing Opticians – the self-employed and employers’ organisation in each country. Although ophthalmic opticians were in practice in those days, all dispensing opticians worked with eye doctors and/or from their prescriptions.

In September 1946, Briton Dick Howard attended the American Guild Convention where it was mooted that the affiliation between the two counties be formalised into an International Guild. However, it took a further five years to come about – possibly because optics in the UK underwent a major change in 1948 with the introduction of the National Health Service.

Alfred Hawes of London was a leading light in British optics at that time. His son Jim visited the American Guild in 1950 and was told – in his own words – to get back home and tell his dad to “get off his butt and get the International Guild on the road”. A set of by-laws had to be approved and, without the benefit of modern technology, this delayed the formal commencement until 1951. Alfred was surprised, yet delighted, to accept the position of first International Guild president.

Meetings called ‘conventions’ were held biannually, the first one being in London in August 1953. By that time, the Guild of Dispensing Opticians of Australia and the Irish Association of Dispensing Opticians had joined together. Business and commercial topics were, and remain, the main agenda items rather than ‘pure optics’.

British Guild secretary, Marc Aird, was appointed International Guild secretary, a post he held until his retirement in 1978 when he was succeeded by Tony Westhead.

It was around that time that the Canadian and New Zealand Guilds joined the International Guild. The South African Association first sent an observer in 1994 and also subsequently joined. The Malaysian Association of Practising Opticians (MAPO) joined briefly in the mid 1990s but around 1996, withdrew as they did not feel membership was of benefit to them. Today, MAPO is back on board.

Australians are also stalwarts of the membership. The International Guild’s biennial conventions move around each of the member countries in turn, usually taking place in the country of the sitting president. Due to one move to the Southern Hemisphere there was a three-year interval rather than the usual two. A further interval of three years took place between the conventions of 1998 and 2001, partly to enable the IOA (as it was known by then) to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2001.

The UK organising committee for the 1990 convention decided to make its programme much more formal than in previous years with the introduction of workshops, seminars and lectures. This proved successful with delegates and it was requested that this format be continued along with an active social content. In New Zealand in 1994, a new ‘Mem & Arts’ was adopted which incorporated a change of name to the International Opticians Association. New by-laws were written and they, and the new title, officially took effect in the USA in 1996.

As previously stated, the UK has provided the central secretariat since its inception – financed and provided by the Guild, then its successor the Federation of Optical Corporate Bodies (FOCB) and then, in turn, its successor the Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians (FODO). With the retirement of Tony Westhead, FODO was unsure of its role within the IOA, possibly because by then it was, and is, closely involved with the protection and advancement of optometric businesses as well as dispensing ones. Hence, ABDO took over provision of this role on 1 January 1997.

Around the year 2000, the New Zealand Guild joined forces with the Australian one for certain purposes, including membership of the IOA, and in this instance are currently known as the Australasian Association. The IOA is not a political organisation nor does it have pretensions to become one, although its council’s current thinking can see some merit in fuller cooperation on the educational front. The IOA is a forum for opticians from around the world offering them the opportunity to discuss and disseminate matters relating to optical business. It also provides support to fellow members as necessary.

The IOA’s business is mainly carried out as stated at conventions. Modern communication methods, however, enable more regular contact. Conventions encourage an unashamed social element into the more serious proceedings

Topic: Optical News