It has been a long time since my last induction into my group of Honorary Roll Models, and given my recent partnership with the Braun Corporation, I think that it is only fitting to announce today’s addition to this prestigious club. The man I am honoring today made a profound impact on the disabled community by giving them the freedom of mobility. He gave people in wheelchairs the ability to go out into the world and chase their dreams for the first time. Not only did he give physically disabled individuals the means to be a part of society, but he also believed that money should not keep a disabled person from the independence of mobility, and created a foundation to assist people with acquiring wheelchair accessible vehicles. Plus, he too is a Northern Indiana boy with spinal muscular atrophy and big dreams. This incredible man, who was diagnosed in 1947 at the age of 6 years old with muscular dystrophy, was Ralph Braun.
Braun, like me, was born with the genetic, neuromuscular disease, spinal muscular atrophy. By the age of 14, he could no longer walk and began using a wheelchair. Even though it was the late 1950s, a time when most of the physically disabled were either shut-ins or in facilities, Ralph was determined to get an education and create a life for himself despite his physical limitations. At the age of 20 he had built himself a 3-wheeled scooter, the Tri-wheeler, that could help him travel slightly longer distances than he could with his wheelchair. His invention allowed him to become a part of society, and he used his Tri-wheeler for several years to get to and from his job at a nearby manufacturing company. A few years later the company relocated further from Braun’s home than his Tri-wheeler would take him though, and for most people this would have ended the story, but Ralph Braun was not most people. He fitted an old, mail carrier jeep with hand controls and a hydraulic tailgate lift that allowed him to travel long distances in his wheelchair without assistance, which gave him access to the whole world.
Braun’s inventions not only gave him the ability to have a happy, fulfilling life, but they also drew the attention of the disabled community in general. Ralph decided that everyone should have the chance to become a part of the world, so in 1963 he started “Save-A-Step” manufacturing where he built his Tri-wheeler for others. Within just a few years, “Save-A-Step” began manufacturing the Lift-A-Way wheelchair lift for full-size vans, and just like that the disabled community had mobility for the first time. In 1972 “Save-A-Step” became the Braun Corporation, and over the next two decades and beyond, this company achieved great success and continued to make efforts to improve the mobility of physically disabled people with advances like the dropped-floor minivan. Even though Braun passed away in 2012 at the age of 72, his company continues to lead the way in making the world accessible to people with physical limitations.
In addition to the enormous impact his company has had on the disabled community, Braun also worked to ensure that financial issues would not prevent disabled individuals from being a part of society. He did this through his Braun Foundation. The mission of this organization is to “assist those with mobility needs through education, information, and product acquisition.” The organization has provided numerous families with vehicles, lifts, and countless other mobility products that otherwise could not afford them. It is no surprise that Ralph’s impact on the disabled community has been recognized by many prestigious awards. He received the “Champion of Change” award from the White House and was inducted into the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) in 2012. Even though he is no longer with us, there is no doubt that his legacy will be appreciated by the disabled community forever.
Although I may be slightly biased by the fact that Ralph and I both grew up in Indiana, had the same disease, and worked for the same company, I don’t think anyone would disagree that he greatly improved the lives of all disabled people. His legacy will live on through the great work of both his Braun Corporation and the Braun Foundation for years. I am so honored to be a part of the Braun family that he created to help others. So, it is my privilege to announce that Ralph Braun is now an Honorary Roll Model.