It really began as a quest for a solution for Maria Dellapina, founder of Superior Precision Eyewear for Children who are Special, otherwise known as Specs4Us. Her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth and like almost all other children with Down Syndrome, needed glasses by the age of two. But for years after that, Dellapina was unable to find a proper eyeglass frame to fit Erin’s face – one that would not keep slipping off and cause the little girl frustration that she would hurl them across the room, damaging them in the process.
“Children with Down Syndrome have lower bridge placement, they can have higher or lower temples and ear sets, so typical glass frames do not fit them and the kids just don’t want to wear them,” Dellapina says.
Dellapina had worked in the eyewear industry for many years but never on the design side. Unable to find anything that would fit her daughter, and not wanting to keep on having Erin’s glasses fixed or replaced, and realizing that other parents who have kids with Down Syndrome were facing similar issues, she set about designing a prototype of her own.
Her goal, she says, was to not just create a frame that would fit a child with Down Syndrome, but would also look “like an accessory and not like a necessity.”
Glasses Courtesy of Specs4Us
After tinkering around with glasses in her spare time, Dellapina, a single, working mother of four, had designed a prototype. A friend gave her the money to hire a manufacturer in South Korea, who after a couple of attempts, understood exactly what Dellapina had in mind and sent her around eight samples.
She reached out to several people she knew, offering them cash to put lenses into her frames and try the glasses on their children (including two infants). The feedback was more than positive.
“I’m proud to say that those people are still wearing the same frames today,” she says.
From there, Dellapina ordered three models in two sizes, both of which arrived from the manufacturer on her daughter’s ninth birthday.
Erin’s World, as she christened the line, sold out at a Down Syndrome conference Dellapina attended, and “we returned from there with seven pages, filled out back to front, of names of individuals who wanted frames for their kids, including older children and teens.”
But even as her name and her glasses became more and more well known among the Down Syndrome community, opticians were reluctant to take them on. It took a long time to convince glasses shops to carry her frames, and to make opticians realize the value of a line of eyewear specifically designed to fit the face of a child or teenager with Down Syndrome.
Today, Specs4Us sells frames wholesale to opticians all over the world. The company exports to 29 countries around the globe and supplies ophthalmologists who operate on babies with cataracts. Dellapina also donates her frames to Special Olympics events.
Although Specs4Us primarily makes frames for individuals with Down Syndrome, the company has recently started working with other communities that have distinct facial features as well, including the dwarf community. Dellapina also made glasses for Adalia Rose, who has a rare genetic condition called Progeria.
Her efforts have not gone unrecognized: in addition to receiving the Exceptional Meritorious Service Award from the Nation Down Syndrome Congress in 2013, Dellapina was awarded Toyota’s Mother of Invention Award in 2015 and is the recipient of the Best Company for Innovation by SCORE in Washington DC.
Currently, Specs4Us only makes metal frames but Dellapina is hoping that soon she will be able to manufacture plastic frames as well, with the same intent of designing glasses that are “fun, funky and serviceable all at once.”
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.