Father of the Mobility Movement – Ralph Braun

Our Founder, Ralph Braun (1940-2013)

Ralph was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a young boy in 1947. Doctors told his parents he’d never be independent, but both Ralph and his parents were determined to prove them wrong. In the next few years, Ralph lost his ability to walk.  At a young age, he set his mind to engineering the first battery-powered scooter. From there he designed the world’s first wheelchair lift, installed in an old postal Jeep and complete with hand controls. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Ralph’s physical limitations only served to fuel his determination to live independently and prove to society that people with physical disabilities can participate fully and actively in life.

What started as a personal drive to keep independent evolved into BraunAbility, the leading manufacturer of mobility products across the globe. Ralph passed away in 2013 at the age of 72, but not before he launched the mobility movement. BraunAbility, proudly carries on our founder’s legacy today.

5 Lessons From Ralph

Put the Customer First

The story goes that one Friday afternoon Ralph Braun wheeled down to the assembly line and picked one of the newly built vans to test drive over the weekend. He asked a foreman for the keys, and the startled employee stuttered, “Well, Mr. Braun…I guess I didn’t know you’d be taking this van.”

Ralph turned to the man and said, “Would you have built it any differently if you had?”

It was a teachable moment for the foreman and, as the story was told again and again, for the generations of employees to follow. “Build every van like you’re building it for me, or your own mother, or for your son – because some day you may have to,” he’d say.

For many years, if you’d call our headquarters and ask to speak to Mr. Braun, there was a good chance he’d answer the phone. Ralph was accessible to his customers. He listened, and then he acted. In turn, we learned how to respect our customers and earn their trust still today.

No Excuses

Ralph had every opportunity in the world to make excuses for himself – why he couldn’t go to school or get a job or even get out of bed in the morning. But he never made excuses for himself.  Instead, he built an entire industry and made automotive accessibility a reality in American society.

When you report to a man like that, you don’t make excuses.  As one of his earliest employees and close friends says, “Rarely were excuses necessary. Ralph was a master at motivating people.  He was gifted with a character that made people want to do great things.”

Over the past 40 years, we’ve learned a little something about setting expectations for our company, our products, our life – and exceeding them. We have every intention of making the impossible possible in mobility – just like Ralph did.  No excuses.

Surround Yourself with Good People

“So what’s the secret to your success?”

It was common for Ralph to be asked this question, and you could expect the same reply: “I surround myself with good people – and then I get out of the way.”

As part of the team he built, we heard these words often. It was a little unreal to believe that he felt like we could do the work that would live up to his standards.

But then again, Ralph was used to relying on people. He couldn’t do everything for the company or even for himself.  Ralph relied on his team of caregivers and family and employees to help him through a day – and a life. Those people had to be skilled and qualified – but most importantly they had to share his values and a vision of a customer-focused culture.  Ralph is gone, but our team remains – and we’re working harder than ever toward his vision.

Never Stop Improving

Here’s a story that was only shared after Ralph passed away. In his late 50s, long after his company was leading the mobility industry, Ralph decided he wasn’t a strong public speaker. It bothered him, and he knew as CEO of a growing company, he would be called upon to speak again and again.

He decided to go back to college and take a course in public speaking. Two nights a week for a full semester, he drove himself an hour away from his home to a local college.  Imagine the contrast: a room full of 19-year-old college students and one older man in a motorized scooter.

He loved that class, and he learned.  In fact, he was voted by his class as one of two contenders for their end-of-year speech competition.  Ralph beamed with pride over the honor, and asked his family to come watch him that evening.

Whatever he could do to make his company or himself better as a leader – he did it, and he reminded us that success in life can breed complacency. In Ralph’s mind, there was no greater sin than believing improvement had a finish line.

Believe in Your God-Given Ability

Ralph faced enormous obstacles in his life, but he believed in the ability God gave him. He didn’t set out to blaze a trail as a mobility pioneer. He set out to show his doctors he didn’t need to be institutionalized. He set out to show a school system that students with physical disabilities deserve to be educated. He set out to prove the banks wrong who would not loan money to a man in a wheelchair.

As he fought and won again and again and again, he did what incredible leaders do.  He made us ask, “Why not me?”

Why not? That God-given ability is different for each of us, but it’s there. We can use it to fight the battles, to blaze the trails, to be the difference between status quo and a better way of life. Just like Ralph did.

About Our Founder, Ralph Braun

We’ve been “making life a moving experience” for persons with disabilities since 1972. Ralph Braun started this venture nearly four decades ago with only a handful of people. Thus, what began as a few dedicated and loyal employees working together eventually grew into the world’s leading mobility manufacturer.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Ralph Braun’s early life helped build the mobility industry as we know it today. It all started with a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy at the young age of 6.  His parents instilled in him the will to overcome the challenges his disability presented him.  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.


Rise Above

Ralph has left a permanent legacy in the mobility community and will be remembered as a true pioneer of accessibility. He wrote his autobiography, Rise Above, to tell the story of the challenges he faced as a young man – not only from his physical challenges, but from the limitations society placed on individuals with disabilities as well. All proceeds from the book are donated to the Ralph Braun Foundation to help make mobility more affordable to those who need it.

BraunAbility History

Ralph Braun built his first motorized wheelchair in his cousin’s farm shop in 1962, never dreaming his company would turn into a world-renowned industry leader and improve thousands of lives.

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