How One Mother Designed Better Glasses For People With Down Syndrome

by Melissa McGlensey for The Mighty
Originally Published: 
Courtesy Maria Dellapina

One mother in Burton, Ohio, turned her daughter’s need into a career helping others.

Erin Farragher, now 16, needed glasses when she was about 20 months old. Her mother, Maria Dellapina, set out right away to find the perfect pair but soon found conventional frame designs didn’t properly fit Erin, who has Down syndrome. People with the genetic condition often have unique facial features such as low nasal bridges, small ears, and wide temple areas.

“[Conventional glasses] would fall down her nose and just didn’t sit right on her face,” Dellapina told The Mighty. “She didn’t want to wear them.”

At the time, Dellapina had nearly 25 years of experience making glasses, dispensing frames and lenses and working as a frame buyer. Still, despite her connections in the industry, she just couldn’t find a pair she could alter to fit Erin, even after making extensive adjustments. So she began designing them herself.

“It was very frustrating because I needed this for my daughter,” Dellapina told The Mighty, “and I knew I couldn’t be the only one.”

She wasn’t.

Dellapina started talking to other parents of children with Down syndrome and realized a real need existed for glasses that properly fit. But she couldn’t find a manufacturer willing to make her designs. As a single working mother with four kids, two of them toddlers, Dellapina had little time or money to invest into getting the frames made.

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Dellapina with her 29-year-old son Anthony at a photo shoot for “Women in the World” in December. Anthony is a special education teacher.

Then, in 2007, Erin became ill after an ear infection turned into a dangerous infection further complicated by her allergies to antibiotics. Dellapina lost her job, and ultimately decided she had to work from home to take care of Erin. It was time to start the business.

She finally found a manufacturer in South Korea willing to make the glasses, and a friend lent her the money to for the first prototypes.

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Erin at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Salon in San Antonio, where Toyota’s Mother of Invention award was announced in December.

Fast forward eight years, and Dellapina runs Specs4Us, which stands for “Superior Precision Eyewear for Children Who Are Special.” The company has 14 different styles in sizes from infant through adult, and has sold glasses in 28 countries so far. Dellapina even won a Toyota Mother of Invention Award in December, which came with a $50,000 grant to further expand her business.

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Erin travels with Dellapina to conferences, models in promotional images for Specs4Us, and even has a Specs4Us frame line named after her, but the bottom line is she has glasses that fit.

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A pair of Erin’s World glasses, by Specs4us, designed by Maria Dellapina

“She loves wearing her glasses,” Dellapina told The Mighty. “They’re the first thing she puts on in the morning and the last thing she takes off at night.”

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Erin Farragger modeling her glasses.

Besides helping her daughter, Dellapina has found a reward in the feedback she gets daily from satisfied customers.

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A young model named Guilianne wearing Specs4Us.

“I get up every morning knowing I will get an email or Facebook post of a child in the glasses with comments on how much it’s changed their lives, and it puts a big smile on my face,” Dellapina told The Mighty. “You can’t have a better job or one more rewarding than doing something to help people all around the world.”

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For more information on Specs4Us, visit their website or Facebook page.

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