Beck column: ‘Because life is a moving experience:’ Ralph Braun rose above

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 10, 2012

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Edward Everett Hale
By Linda Beck
For the Salisbury Post
In the epilogue of his autobiography, “Rise Above,” Ralph Braun used the aforementioned quotation. I don’t know the history of E.E. Hale, but this quote has been one in the annals of my life.
One may ask, “Well, who is Ralph Braun?” He was, and still is, “history in the making.” Just before reading this book, I saw a show on the History Channel about the men who made America … Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.
Ralph Braun came along later but certainly has been the “maker” for the disabled in America and now even worldwide. Braun and his parents were told when he was 7 years old that he had muscular dystrophy and would not live to be age 11. There are many disabled people who can remember the time, date, etc. when they, or their loved ones, were diagnosed as being “disabled.”
In the early years of muscular dystrophy when muscle strength and size gradually decreases, Ralph’s father carried him on his shoulders without complaining about back pain even though he had previous back injuries and had experienced serious surgery.
“Necessity became the mother of invention” as this young man and his family chose for him to be a part of mainstream America. Ralph built the world’s first motorized scooter, the Tri-wheeler, in the privacy of his father’s backyard garage. (I have now owned three of these scooters. They have been my legs just as Ralph’s first two scooters were his transportation to and from work and through the town of Winamac, Ind.
As other people watched Ralph riding his scooter around, they began asking questions about where he got that “thing” and then offering to pay him to build another one. In his book, Ralph goes into great detail about how his personal hobby became a world-wide business to help others with disabilities.
He later developed the hydraulic lifts like the one I had installed on the back of my car in 1996. Through the years, he began building lifts for business vehicles (such as school buses, disability vans like Rowan County’s RITA service, etc.)
During these years, he married, had five children, and worked another job to pay his expenses as he tried to help others with disabilities. As his business grew, he started over and developed new means to produce en mass after a fire ruined the manufacturing plant and requests continued to pour in.
I can’t begin to cover the growth of the BraunAbility Corporation. The book, “Rise Above,” is 197 action-packed pages that Ralph Braun experienced because of his disability (or should I say regardless of his handicap). As I read along, I saw my personal life as he says in his company’s tag line: “Because life is a moving experience.”
In sharing his business experience, there was one paragraph that related to me. Even though I own a handicap conversion van that was equipped by BraunAbility, I still know minimum details about how it works (or those times when it hasn’t worked.) But I was encouraged by the following paragraph: “A case in point is our hydraulic cylinders, which we manufacture at our plant in Winamac. We build them ourselves for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we know that because of their unique circumstances, our disabled customers need to feel — beyond a shadow of a doubt — they can trust our products to be reliable, long-lasting, and completely safe. Every company should strive for those attributes in their products, but with us it’s especially so. If a lift or a ramp on one of our vehicles doesn’t work, wears out, or is unstable, our customers may have a harder time finding help. If our products are unreliable, our customers are stuck or, worse, in danger. Because I am in a chair and rely on lifts and ramps myself, I happen to have firsthand knowledge of why this is so important. That’s why our cylinders, as part of the ‘special sauce’ of our company, are important enough for us to build ourselves.”
In the last chapter of the book, Ralph quoted another inventor who once said: “I just invent then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.” Ralph shares how the law, “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990” and the design of the Entervan (lowered floor minivan) have enabled many disabled folks like me to experience how “disability and mobility know no boundaries, geographic, or otherwise.” Several other things he says about his customers are as follows:
Page 185: “The necessity of finding reliable mobility led me to create an invention and a company that changed my life and the lives of thousands of individuals worldwide. In many ways, my ‘disability’ led to one valuable ‘ability,’ knowing firsthand the frustration of having your independence held back because society doesn’t think you deserve an invitation to the party. Today, most of society sees the ability in each individual, disabled or not, and that shift in attitude has been a blessing to our company and the disabled community. I’d like to think our products played a small role in this shift, simply because they allowed people with disabilities to get out in society and start demanding their rights.”
Page 187: “In the early days of using converted full-sized vans, consumers were just happy to be mobile. They were happy they could get in a vehicle and do what ever they felt like doing. Just leaving their house without having to organize logistics a week in advance gave them newfound liberty, freedom, and independence. Pardon the pun, but in those days, comfort and style took a backseat to pure access. It didn’t matter so much that a person in a wheelchair sat in the back, away from the conversation that was taking place in the front of the vehicle; it didn’t matter that they were raised up so high they couldn’t see outside; it only mattered that they could get somewhere.”
Page 192: In his conclusion, Ralph said: “That special word, the mainstream, brings us full circle. It’s what my mother and father demanded for me on that hot summer day in 1946 when I was given my death sentence. It’s what I demanded for myself as I strove to find my way in the world and follow their bright, shining example. It’s what I demanded for others who faced the same challenges I had and who desired more than anything in life to rise above those challenges. In closing, let me say this: as I continue to climb the ladder of life, I hope with all my heart that I never have to have you or your loved ones as customers. But if you should need us, we will be here, ready and willing to extend a helping hand. Rise above, my friends, and reach back to help others climb the ladder of life.”
After reading his book, I decided it was okay to refer to him as Ralph rather than Mr. Braun, or Braun, as most newspapers do. I felt like he was talking directly to me, or about me, and I would have his approval.
I will conclude by sharing some of my own experiences. In spite of the cost and other factors, BraunAbility has stood behind one of their dealers (Ilderton Dodge in High Point) in trying to discover and solve a few problems when I have found myself unable to get in or out when the ramp and door failed to work.
I believe now that my first mistake was failing to buy direct from a local dealership as opposed to ordering over the Internet. Even though I did not buy the van from Ilderton Dodge, the service department there has done everything they could to fix and return “my legs” in a timely manner when there has been a problem. Ilderton has direct contact with the engineers at BraunAbility.
This book has helped me understand why the converting of a new vehicle adds such substantial costs to owning a handicapped conversion van.
And now when I give my daily prayer of thanks for the freedom the scooters and van have given me, I also will thank God for Ralph Braun and others like him who desire to help those of us with disabilities and have the brain power to develop such products!
The book, “Rise Above,” by Ralph W. Braun is available on for one penny plus shipping and handling.