Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

In Memoriam Ralph Braun

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

In Memoriam Ralph Braun

Article excerpt

Ralph William Braun, founder and CEO of The Braun Corporation, passed away Friday, February 8th in Winamac, Indiana. He was 72 years old.

Ralph leaves behind a significant legacy in the mobility industry--an industry that he helped create based on his personal need for mobility products.

In 1947, Ralph was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at just six years of age. Ralph credits his parents with instilling in him the will to overcome the challenges his disability presented him--as well as any other obstacles life put in his path. When he could no longer rely on his own two legs and he'd outgrown piggyback rides from his dad, he began using a wheelchair. While he didn't welcome the mobility aid, the 13-year-old never let it slow him down. Ralph wanted an education, a career and a family, just like anyone else; he just had to work a little harder at it.

The first mobility product he engineered was a motorized scooter, which he called the Tri-Wheeler. The scooter allowed him to conserve energy and keep his job as a Quality Control Inspector at a nearby factory. As his mobility increased, so did the attention from the special needs community. What started as a part-time business, filling orders for Tri-Wheelers from his parents' garage, evolved into Save-A-Step Manufacturing.

When the factory where Ralph worked moved a few miles from his home, he outfitted an old postal Jeep with hand controls and a hydraulic lift so he could have reliable transportation to and from work, no matter the weather. Just a few years later, when Dodge introduced the first full-sized, front-engine van, he devised a way to install a wheelchair lift that would revolutionize the mobility industry. For the first time, individuals with disabilities had a way to travel on the road from their wheelchairs.

The Braun Corporation was incorporated in 1972, and for much of the remainder of that decade and the next, Braun's product line was built on the wheelchair lift. Not only did this product revolutionize consumer mobility, but it forever changed public transportation as well. Finally, buses and vans could be outfitted with wheelchair lifts to allow universal public transportation from city and state governments. Most important of all, children across the country were offered accessible transportation to and from school--a benefit that didn't seem possible when Ralph was a young man encountering multiple roadblocks to his own public education. …

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