When it comes down to it, what we really do at BraunAbility is solve problems. In fact, we wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for our C.E.O. and Founder Ralph Braun’s disability and his drive to solve the mobility problems he was facing back in the sixties. As Spinal Muscular Atrophy steadily took away Ralph’s ability to get around, he turned his mind to finding a solution and soon the world’s first electric three-wheel scooter was born. That was the start of our company, but it wasn’t the last transportation problem that Ralph would solve – far from it. Today, almost 50 years later, our wheelchair vans and wheelchair lifts offer solutions to thousands of people’s transportation needs. And each and every one of our customers has Ralph’s “problem solving” ability to thank for it. Over the past few months I’ve been corresponding with Glenn Burdeaux, a mechanical engineer from La Porte, Texas with over 35 years of experience. Like Ralph, he definitely strikes me as the kind of guy that is good at solving problems. Glenn has come up with a couple of very practical solutions that make his and his girlfriend Dr. Ann Holmes’ life a little bit easier.
Wheelchair Vans and the Seat Removal Conundrum
Ann has Muscular Dystrophy, and drives her 2009 BraunAbility Rampvan to and from work in Houston by herself during the week. The driver seat is removed, allowing her to drive from her power wheelchair. On weekends, Glenn likes to take over the driving duties, so he puts the driver seat back in place, and removes the passenger seat so Ann can ride shotgun. As you can imagine, this results in a lot of seat-shuffling from the van to the garage! Most of our customers only remove or reinstall the mobility van’s seats on occasion, and the smaller rollers on the Toyota seats work fine for them. Glenn moves them twice every week over a rough surface, and he was getting frustrated trying to navigate on the small wheels. His solution? Simple: bigger wheels – what Ann has dubbed “BurdWheels!”. He gathered the necessary parts at the hardware store, and as you can see in the photo, Glenn simply attaches his wheels onto the seat base using the existing locking mechanism, and now he can easily roll the whole assembly in and out of Ann’s Rampvan. I do a lot of seat-shuffling myself when we’re taking photos of our vans up at the studio. Since they are new vans yet to be sold, we are very careful not to mark up the wheels, and we end up having to carry the seats out. When I first saw Glenn’s wheels, I immediately thought of my poor back and wanted some. Glenn was nice enough to send me a set, and my life has definitely gotten a little easier!
Wheelchair Vans and the Parking Predicament
It’s a problem that every wheelchair van driver faces eventually: you find a handicap parking space with plenty of room for your ramp at the side of your handicap van. You exit your vehicle, fold up the ramp, and go about your business. When you return, someone has parked right next to you, blocking the ramp. You have no choice but to wait for the owner to return and move it. And it’s raining. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking about subjecting the owner of that car to all types of medieval torture devices at this point! There are stickers on Ann’s back and passenger side windows requesting parking clearance, but it still happened way too often. So Glenn started thinking about a solution to the problem. I’ve heard of customers placing orange cones or a “sandwich board” sign asking others to leave the parking space next to them open. Glenn considered this idea, but was worried that the sign might be moved or stolen, and Ann didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of carrying it in her lap up and down the ramp. His solution was another simple one: he purchased a blank car window flag online and, using his PC and some transfer paper, ironed on the message “8′ Ramp Access Required. Thank You!” Before exiting her van, Ann hangs the flag on the ramp side window and removes it after she is back inside. So far, since she began using the flag, she has not been blocked out. Another problem solved!
I’d like to thank Glenn and Ann for sharing their story with us. Glenn is happy to pass on his ideas to anyone who will benefit from them. You can see some more detailed photos of the “BurdWheels” that Glenn posted on our Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure to become a fan of BraunAbility so you can keep up with the latest happenings at our company. We love to hear simple solutions to everyday problems encountered by our customers. Though it’s our job to solve as many as we can, sometimes the people out on the “front lines” can see something we missed. So, if you have any thoughts, ideas or concerns, please feel free to share them with us by commenting below. Personally, I’m waiting to hear the next bright idea from Glenn – I’m starting to think we should get him on the payroll!