Ralph Braun Biography
Ralph Braun found out he was different when he was six years old.
He had been born in the cornfields of Indiana, halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago.
It was that year that he realized he couldn’t walk up the stairs like his siblings. Concerned, his parents took him to a children’s hospital where he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
This initial diagnosis was not complete and it was later changed to spinal muscular atrophy.
The condition caused him to go into a wheelchair. For a child, the experience was traumatic. In his wheelchair his life felt limited, he couldn’t run with the other children and he needed assistance to get around. However, his parents helped him through it all.
His father told him to not give up, and Ralph took it to heart.
When Ralph got into college at Indiana State he left after a year, it was just too difficult to navigate the sprawling campus in his wheelchair.
This challenge, however, gave him an idea. What if he could design an electric wheelchair?
After all, his uncles worked on motorcycles and race cars, they’d taught him quite a bit.
He began to design and experiment.
After several months he had come up with a design.
His cousin worked on tractor equipment and gave Ralph the opportunity to build the battery-powered scooter in his garage.
At first, no one believed that it would work.
Despite this, Ralph kept working on it, improving the engineering as he went. He wanted to change how people like him got around.
He wanted to change their lives and his own.
After some work, he got the prototype working and was able to use it at his job at a local automotive supply factory.
At work, his invention got attention.
Other coworkers would approach him to ask about his scooter and mention they knew someone who needed it.
He started to build them part-time for others for eight or nine years, until 1970. The impact he began making in his community began to grow.
At the same time, Ralph had converted an old postal truck so that he could drive his scooter inside.
Around 1970, the automotive factory where he worked was moved so he needed more reliable transportation.
Dodge had made a large mini-van that was perfect for Ralph’s purposes.
With some modifications he created a lift that allowed him to drive the vehicle from his wheelchair.
Just like with his scooter, people began to find out about it and asked him to make them for people who needed them.
He started making them in Winamac, Indiana.
People would come from all around the country and bring their vehicles to be converted.
Ralph started by working out of his parents’ garage with one employee. Soon, he needed to hire a second.
He continued to work at the factory during the day in order to support his family.
He began growing his business, all the income he made was reinvested right back into the business.
He’d get off from the factory at 3:30 in the afternoon and then would work until early in the morning, get some sleep, and go back to work at the factory. It was a project of passion, something he really wanted to do.
He enjoyed seeing the change it made for others. In 1973, Ralph was confident enough in his business to quit the factory.
Taking the plunge to self-employment.
The first building he rented left a lot to be desired.
He would joke that the building leaked so much that it rained on the inside! He continued to work hard and in less than a year he was able to purchase a better building. Unfortunately, another challenge struck.
A fire broke out in the building and caused a lot of damage.
It almost put him out of business, but his employees banded together to get everything back on track.
During the time, injured veterans were returning from Vietnam and needing the lifts he made.
The technology he used on the scooters was becoming more available and cheaper overseas.
He decided to focus his business on the converted vehicles and lifts.
The reward for me is seeing the satisfaction of the customer. That is the reward of this business.
He had begun selling the converted vans directly to customers.
Ralph began traveling, taking his invention to different organization and hospitals.
He went to several states, wherever he could talk to people who needed his technology.
Many disabled people and their families saw the benefit. People began selling and installing the products.
Ralph started with one dealer’s organization that later grew to over 200 dealers across the United States today.
From humble beginnings in a tractor garage to a $200 million company, Ralph built a product that people needed.
He started with a simple idea, making his own life easier and found a way to share the technology in a way that changed his life and others.
Through his ingenuity and the dedication of his employees he has created a company where many of his employees have been working for three decades.
His company built three factories and employs over 700 people today in Indiana.
Braun Ability sells his product all around the world.
A young man in a wheelchair had big dreams about changing the world. Through hard work and dedication through the challenges and successes he was able to make that dream a reality and change the lives of millions of people.
Ralph Braun showed that ‘disabled’ is just a label, with passion it’s possible to achieve anything.
In his own words:
I surround myself with good people – and then I get out of the way.
Rise above, my friends, and reach back to help others climb the ladder of life
Find out how you can support his cause at the Ralph Braun Foundation the National Organization of Vehicle Accessibility, or Nova for short.