Gearing Up Mobility with BraunAbility

BraunAbility, a manufacturer of wheelchair-accessible vans and lifts, recently announced plans to relocate its global headquarters to Carmel. According to Inside INdiana Business, the company will invest $7.5 million to move to the Lakeside Green Business Center and build a new Research & Development and Technology Center.

Adaptive driving

This investment will not only create several jobs in Carmel, but it will also boost existing manufacturing operations in Winamac, Ind., where the company is currently based. The new headquarters should be operational by June, while the technology center will open in 2020.

Collaboration and innovation

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, BraunAbility’s CEO Staci Kroon said: “At BraunAbility, our goal is improving independence and freedom for our customers — we change lives. Winamac, Indiana is the birthplace of our company and will remain the heart and soul of the company as its primary manufacturing center. To support our continued expansion, we’re excited to announce Carmel as our new, global headquarters. The new facilities will be designed for collaboration and innovation and are key to our long-term recruitment and retention strategies.”

The focus on innovation and new product development is a boon to organizations like Easterseals Crossroads that use BraunAbility’s vehicle conversions to help people with disabilities.

Adaptive driving

“Since the minivan explosion in the late ’80s, early ’90s, we’ve had a great relationship with BraunAbility,” said Suzanne Pritchard, an occupational therapist and certified driver rehabilitation specialist at Easterseals Crossroads. “BraunAbility has been a huge asset to our driving program, and we look forward to seeing the company grow.”

Getting behind the wheel

Easterseals Crossroads’ driving program offers comprehensive evaluations and training services for people with disabilities. Consumers may have physical, visual or cognitive disabilities. It’s an opportunity for first-time drivers as well as previous drivers to obtain or retain their driver’s license.

The initial evaluation lasts roughly three hours, consisting of a clinical and behind-the-wheel assessment of the participant’s ability to independently drive a vehicle.

As stated on the website, the evaluation includes:

  • Medical history and current medications
  • Driving history and current driving needs
  • Visual assessment (vision and visual perception)
  • Physical assessment (brake reactions, range of motion, strength, sensation, coordination, balance)
  • Cognitive assessment (memory, judgment, insight, multitasking, command following, abstract thinking, mapping, etc.)
  • Traffic safety and road rules knowledge
  • Behavioral assessment
  • Adaptive equipment needs
  • Behind-the-wheel ability

After this evaluation, the participant receives a written report outlining the training and equipment they will need to drive on their own. From there, they meet with a driver rehabilitation specialist to practice driving in a car or minivan featuring the kind of modifications BraunAbility provides.

A vehicle prescription

After the training, the driver rehabilitation specialists give the program participants a “vehicle prescription” and assist them in the process of working with a vendor like BraunAbility to complete the modifications necessary.

Boasting the broadest lineup of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the mobility industry, BraunAbility offers brand-new and preowned cars from the top auto manufacturers, including the Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Caravan, Ford Explorer, Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna.

Vehicle modifications include side and rear-entry wheelchair lifts as well as rotating transfer seats. Controlled by a remote on any smartphone, the transfer seat exits, lowers and turns outside of the vehicle to aid in moving people into the vehicle.

Multitude of modifications

Other common modifications include keyless entry, push-button ignition and the reverse camera, to name a few. These features come standard in a lot of vehicles now, but they can be useful for people with disabilities.

Adaptive driving

There are also left foot accelerators and controls that allow individuals to drive and brake by hand. The blind spot warning system helps drivers with limited mobility determine whether it’s safe to make a lane change without craning their neck to see oncoming traffic. And drowsy driving technology tracks drivers’ facial gestures and their vehicles’ movements, waking them up with a warning call and a flashing coffee cup icon if they’re falling asleep or swerving all over the road.

A more specialized modification that Easterseals focuses on is the bioptic telescope, which sharpens the driver’s vision. Low-vision optometrists, driving specialists certified in bioptic driving and the Indiana BMV all work together to ensure the training program participants are successfully trained in using the bioptic telescope system.

Moving toward freedom

In addition to this one-on-one training, Pritchard enjoys seeing the long-term effects of the program and the enormous freedom it provides for its participants.

“It’s so rewarding to see them end up with a license, the skills and the equipment needed to pursue what they want to do in life, whether that means seeking leisure activities, education or employment,” she said. “It’s a complete game-changer for them. The fun part of the job is helping folks get that license in their hand so they have all these opportunities to access the community, engage with their families and enrich their lives. The fact that I get to be part of that is fantastic.”