Ralph Braun: Father of the Mobility Movement for Disabled People

Illustration credits: Dadu Shin

By M Ahmad

RALPH Braun was born on Jan 18, 1940 in Winamac, Indiana, United States. When he was six years old, doctors diagnosed him with muscular dystrophya, condition that limited his ability to use his limbs and move around like every other child of his age. He started using a wheelchair at the age of 14  for mobility. After dropping out of college just a year after entry due to mobility difficulty, he kept things going and wasn’t deterred by his physical challenges. Being physically challenged may be an issue but not to Braun

The life and business journey of Ralph Braun inspire and challenges every able and challenged person, that when there is a will there's a way. It’s a story that started with sadness but ended with joy. It all began with a physical challenge but ended with a lot of abilities and successes. Determined to maintain his independence, he engineered the world’s first motorized scooter and followed by first wheelchair accessible vehicles and wheelchair lifts for PWDs.

The business life of Ralph Braun started out of the desire to solve a problem. The aim was to get a solution that will help him make moving around easier. If whatever he arrives can help him, then, it can help a lot more people with similar conditions like his. Ralph Braun has built a $200 million company but he started small in his father’s garage. It all began with an idea to make living easier for him. He got that right and shared the same practical solution to help others as well. He was neck-deep into all activities and outcomes because he had to use it first for himself.

Save-A-Step was Braun’s first manufacturing company where he built the first motorized scooter in 1963. Braun’s ingenuity continued and by 1966, he created a wheelchair platform lift for the physically challenged to drive their cars. He helped people convert their vehicles to be wheelchair accessible. By 1970, Ralph Braun had developed a technology able to add wheelchair lifts to a full-sized van. Save-A-Step was later incorporated under a new name, The Braun Corporation.

The company grew substantially over the next decades, and today, the Braun Corporation is the worldwide leader of wheelchair accessible vehicles and wheelchair lifts in the mobility industry. What started as a part-time business operated from his parents’ garage has grown into an international corporation with over 800 employees. In 2006, the Braun Corporation adopted the name Braunability as a brand name. When he was in his 50s, he was holding the position of CEO at Braun Corporation. Ralph Braun was honored as a Champion of Change  in 2012 by the former US president, Barack Obama For leading education and employment efforts in science, technology, engineering and math for Americans with disabilities. He was inducted into the NMEDA Hall of Fame in 2012 and w as recognized as Employer of the Year by the Commission for the Handicapped and the Indiana State Board of Health. He was also honored with the Support of the Guard and Reserves Patriot Award for his support of his employees who serve in the military. “Rise Above”, an autobiography of Ralph W. Braun, written by himself inspires everyone where he had stated about the challenges and roadblock and a strong desire to stand among the odds.

With dedication and commitment, he lived out his dream and changed the world around him for the better. Passion was the drive and he kept it alive all through his life’s journey.  He died on 8th Feb, 2013 at the age of 72 years.

Ralph Braun proved that disability is not a curse but it’s a challenge that drives us to be a person of distinct character giving the world a new thing that the rest of the world has never imagined before.


M Ahmad, Incharge Abhedananda Home-Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Solina, Srinagar, J&K. Can be reached at [email protected]

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