Specs4Us: Cheery Eyewear For Children With Down Syndrome


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.”

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.