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Designing for Special Needs: How Two Women are Changing the World

It’s tough to find a more determined innovator than the mother of a child with an unanswered need.

Need proof? Consider these two women, both from Northeast Ohio, who have entered the market with the first apparel marketed specifically to individuals with Down syndrome and other differences:

Karen Bowersox, founder of NBZ Apparel in Mentor, Ohio, won the 2015 Maureen Fitzgerald Leadership Award from the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities. When congratulated, she laughs and replies that its just one of many. Her story started (as many do) with a family member. Maggie, her granddaughter, was born with Down syndrome. As Maggie grew, Karen realized that there were no manufacturers of jeans to fit the body shape that is characteristic among those with the condition. In general, individuals with Down syndrome have shorter femurs and require pants with a shorter inseam. The shorter femur, or thigh bone, means the pants must be shorter above the knee. So achieving a well-fitting pair isn’t as simple as just shortening the hem.

Enter Jillian Jankovsky, Designer from Virginia Marti College, whom Bowersox met after searching for a designer for her specialized pants. After four years of design work, the customized pants were ready. Flash forward to today, and two additional warehouses later, and Karen’s jeans, black pants, and khakis for those affected by Down syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, autism, or combat wounds can be found all around the world.

Just down the road, in Burton, Ohio, Maria Dellapina founded Specs4Us in 2004. Like Bowersox, Dellapina formed her company in response to the need of a family member. Her youngest daughter, Erin, was born with Down syndrome. Eighty-seven percent of children with Down syndrome will need glasses before they enter preschool. Yet, until Dellapina came along, no one was making frames to fit their faces. Her innovative design accommodates the low nasal bridge and temples which are modified to keep the glasses from constantly slipping down.

Bowersox has been to the White House to share her work, and Dellapina has been featured in the Toyota Mothers of Invention, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. These women started out to make the lives of their own families better. In the process, they helped thousands of people throughout the world from their corner of Northeast Ohio.

Watch the full video of their interviews below and hear from the families they’ve helped:

NBZ Apparel and Specs4Us from Elizabeth Connor on Vimeo.

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The Author

Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth is the owner of EWC Media, LLC and founder of Salt. She has won numerous digital marketing awards from local and statewide agencies, even receiving a nomination for the national SoMe awards in Portland, OR. She is a proud graduate of the Ohio Tourism Leadership Academy.

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