Maria Dellapina on stage in San Antonio receiving the title “Mother of Invention” awarded by Toyota.
By Kim Breyley
Each year since 2012, Toyota has partnered with Tina Brown Media and Women in the World to honor those they deem qualified to be called “Mothers of Invention (MOI).” The program identifies outstanding women who actively contribute to communities across the globe through innovation, entrepreneurship and invention and then recognizes them at Women in the World signature events.
This past November, local Burton business-owner, Maria Dellapina was awarded this prestigious title. “When I got the word that I had won,” she said. “I sat and cried.” Quite an honor!
They say necessity is the mother of invention and this holds true regarding the development of Dellapina’s innovation and now booming business. When her daughter Erin, now 16, youngest of four, born with Down syndrome received the diagnosis of a need for eyeglasses, Dellapina, an optician by profession, quickly realized there were no glasses suited to the needs of Erin’s special features. “An individual with Down syndrome has smaller facial features and a lower bridge setting,” she explained. And glasses that might, but not fully accommodate Erin’s needs, were unattractive, with thick elastic straps that wrapped around the back of the head. “I called on all my optical friends,” said Dellapina. “I couldn’t find any that fit her face properly.” She then realized it would only take some minor changes to a common frame design, to create eyeglasses that would be more suited to Erin’s needs.
She went to work, designing a frame that would suit and then pursued many manufacturers hoping they would see the value and create the frames. These companies returned her prototypes to her with so-called corrections to her design – not what was needed.
Dellapina believed what she had developed was appropriate and that there would be a demand for these frames. Statistics report that nearly 87 percent of children with Down syndrome need glasses by the time they begin preschool, but she meant with resistance.
She experienced other setbacks. Erin had chronic health issues causing her to miss school and even be hospitalized. During one hospitalization, Dellapina had to stay with Erin for days. During Erin’s recovery, she lost her job. Soon after that, whilst in a job interview, Dellapina received a call from Erin’s school saying that Erin needed to be picked up immediately; needless to say, she didn’t get the job.
After months of perseverance, Dellapina found a company that would create the frames. John Fisher, a family friend supported the venture and fronted start-up funding. Dellapina and her son Anthony attended a conference for people with Down syndrome. The response was phenomenal; they came home with a four-page list of orders for these specialized eyeglass frames.
For the past 10 years, Dellapina has been building her company, Specs4Us (Superior Precision Eyewear for Children who are Special), offering specially designed eyeglass frames for folks of all ages with Down syndrome and similar unique needs.
Today, she is called on to speak internationally to parents and doctors at conventions about the simple solutions to eye wear for Downs patients. Last year Specs4Us sold more than 6,000 frames and year-to-date, Spec4Us has shipped more that 60,000 frames worldwide.
This specialized line of frames is named for Erin. Erin’s World eyewear is lightweight, trendy and can be twisted this way and that way without breaking.
This past November film crews came to Burton, recorded the Spec4Us story, and interviewed the Dellapina and other families that had benefitted from Specs4Us frames.
In December, Dellapina was flown, by Toyota, to San Antonio Texas where they held a grand ceremony. Anthony and Erin walked with her on stage to receive the award. The video showing the Specs4Us story and this event is available for viewing at www.specs4us.com. The New York Times, Huffington Post and many other major publications have published this story.
Congratulations Maria Dellapina, truly, this is a well-deserved award!