Third Spirit of Ability Recipient Honored in TorontoJul 22, 2014
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On Friday, July 18, the third Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability award winner was recognized at the Toronto Day at the Races Event. Sam Schmidt of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports gave the award to Kristen Cameron, a Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, native.Kristen in Classroom

Kristen was a grad student and hockey coach in Pennsylvania, and went out for an evening bike ride. While riding, she was struck by a drunk driver and thrown over 45 feet from her bike. The driver was going an estimated 60 mph when the collision occurred. The driver kept going, only to stop to check for damage on his own car.

The incident left Kristen paralyzed from the chest down after sustaining a broken neck, but not even that could keep her down long.

Kristen is the perfect candidate for the Spirit of Ability because she has shown that she is an immovable object. When she wants to accomplish something, she does.Cameron and Schmidt

A mere few months after her injury, Kristen was back out and exercising. She has taken up wheelchair racing, rugby, and more. Her service dog, Fido, accompanies her to visit schools and other groups to talk about the dangers of drunk driving. She is also back at school and working to finish her master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.

It's a really big honor to get this award, and I don't use that word lightly, said Kristen. It's still just surreal to me.

In addition to the award, a $1,000 donation was made to the disability-related cause of her choice. Kristen has chosen Level Playing, an initiative aimed at removing financial barriers to facilitate equitable access for children with special needs attending summer camps with the city of Brampton, chair

The Spirit of Ability award was created to honor individuals who make a notable difference in the lives of people with physical disabilities, often despite overwhelming odds. With a dedication to living a life as an example of ability, we cannot think of someone more deserving of this award than Kristen.

Congratulations, Kristen, and may your spirit of ability shine on in each race, college course, and onward.

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: News / Announcements
Published: Jul 22, 2014
Colonel, Wing Commander, and BraunAbility CustomerJul 15, 2014
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Two of the three words in the title have an obvious relationship, but the third is just as descriptive in the case of Ernie Coleman. Earnest “Ernie” Coleman is a long-time military man and BraunAbility customer with quite a few stories under his belt. He was recently featured in a blog post by his local dealership, ADA Pasadena. Once we read his story, we had to talk to him ourselves.Ernie in Uniform

Ernie grew up watching footage of WWII fighter pilots flying into battle before the movie would start. Sometimes, he said he would go to the theater simply to watch the war footage of pilots flying instead of the movie itself! He made up his mind, he would become one of those pilots.

To say he accomplished that goal would be an understatement. In his 22 years of service of the United States Air Force, Ernie became Wing Commander of F-111 fighters at an air base, as well as reaching the rank of Colonel in 15 years. He flew close to 200 combat missions during the Vietnam War, some in the F-100 Super Sabre and the remainder in the F-4 Phantom II.

A short while before he made the rank of Brigadier General, the unthinkable happened. While on a training flight, he and his co-pilot encountered several mechanical issues that resulted in the duo ejecting from the plane. The harsh landing injured Ernie’s spine, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.Ernie and Ralph

He lost his promotion to Brigadier General, but his story is far from over.

I don't worry about the little things I can't do,” said Ernie. “But I look at something I really want to do and figure out a way to make it happen.

In the 32 years that Ernie has been in a chair, his legacy has only grown. Both of his sons have had careers in the air force as well, but something that’s pretty remarkable about Ernie is his mechanical prowess.

Ernie has owned 2 BraunAbility vans, 5 vans outfitted with Braun lifts, and over 10 of Ralph’s own Tri-Wheelers. BraunAbility hasn’t made Tri-Wheelers in quite some time, so Ernie and his sons work and maintain them themselves. The family has a lift in the garage that allows Ernie to get to eye level with his Tri-Wheelers and do the work.Ernie and Ann

“I had a Permobil powerchair for a while, and people started treating me differently, so I went back to the Tri-Wheeler,” he said.

The same principle goes with his minivans as well. He said he has shopped for other brands and has test-driven many models, but always comes back.

“I wouldn’t have anything other than a Braun,” he said.

Thank you, Ernie, for your dedication and service to our country in your military career, and thank you for staying with us here at BraunAbility. It’s an honor to make our products for people like you.

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: Customer Stories
Published: Jul 15, 2014
College Tips for Students with a DisabilityJul 07, 2014
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As a recent college graduate, I feel like I am finally entitled to give some advice to all of the other students who are either about to start their foray into higher education, or are maybe only a year or two into it. I know I received much in the way of guidance from fellow college students and grads, and while I didn’t listen to it all, it certainly helped me when I did. Today, I shall begin to impart my wisdom to the next generation, but I want to do so to a different audience: students with a disability.

College is an incredible time. It is filled to the brim with new experiences, different people of all varieties, and it is a chance to learn both book smarts and some practical wisdom. All of these things are equally important, and should be pursued. Only obtaining book smarts is not necessarily a waste of your time and money, but it is a waste of an opportunity that you’ll never have again. During my time in college, I was able to interact with people from Russia, Korea, Ghana, and more on a daily basis. I learned much about myself and American culture from learning about them and theirs. I won’t probably get to do that again either. It was also a time of numerous first experiences, both personally and socially.Jeremy Watts with his Frat

So with this in mind, here are a few things to consider as you go into your freshman year or transfer to a different institution.

There is no Special Ed. in college

In college, everyone goes to the same classes. No exceptions. If you have a disability, bear that in mind. Your lecture could be a hall full of hundreds of other students, or a small room of ten classmates. Either way, it is up to you to plan accordingly and take whatever steps are necessary to succeed. If you need to sit close to the front, show up early. If homework takes longer for you, find a quiet place on or off campus and devote the time it takes. In the classroom, some accommodations may be made, but you’ll still be graded on the same level and scale as your peers.

Talk to the Administration Office about your needs

Though the classroom may be level playing grounds, there are rules that the college must abide by to make sure you have full access to the college life. Colleges cannot ask you about them on entrance forms, but you can mention them on your About Me sections. They will not affect your acceptance to the college either, that will still rest on your academic record. That said, there are accommodations that the college must make for you, and they should be made for you free of charge. Have a service animal? You may be entitled to a single room. In a wheelchair? They will place you in a dorm with an elevator. Hard of hearing? They will supply a sign language translator. Tutors, writing centers, and more are always available to you as well. These accommodation policies extend to extracurricular activities as well.

Talk to your Disability Support Services (DSS) office

Some institutions have a Disability Support Services office that will be your go-to place for anything you might need. Some colleges have differing names for this office, such as Disabled Student Services, Access Services, or the Office of Accessibility. Seek them out and let them know your needs.

Start Slow

Your first semester in college should be started with a smaller course load. College classes are not like your high school courses, and they take a bit of adjustment to get used to. Start with a smaller course load, and take classes in different departments. Experiencing new studies by taking different classes got me to change my major to what I graduated in, and now work doing. Take advantage of that freedom to learn new things and explore. What you find might surprise you.

Failure isn’t an end

College is harder than people expect it to be. In high school, I never got a grade lower than a B, and let’s just say that wasn’t the case in college. I also withdrew from a class and dropped other classes. College gives you the freedom to do these things, and do consider using these tools if you need to. Abusing them could be bad as well, but even with dropping and withdrawing, I graduated Cum Laude, and you can too.


For more tips for college, check out the book,100 Things Every College Student with a Disability Ought to Know by Kendra Johnson and Trudie Hines. If you have some tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below!

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: Customer Stories
Published: Jul 07, 2014
Introducing Jim and Barbara TwardowskiJun 30, 2014
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In conjunction with the upcoming release of our new website and blog, we have a special treat for our readers. Summer is synonymous with vacation, road trips, and travel in general. Travel is near and dear to our hearts here at BraunAbility, and we want to celebrate the season of travel alongside our big launch. Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN, will be doing a special blog series for us on the Great American Road Trip!RoadTrip

The Twardowskis are travel writers with over 9 years of experience and countless published articles under their belts. Their travels have taken them across the United States, into Europe, and even further. Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT) has them traveling with a wheelchair, giving the duo the expertise to know what works and what doesn’t in the world of accessible travel. Their son often plays into the travel plans, giving them a perfect family perspective as well.

The Twardowskis have seen publication with Global Traveler, Health Care Traveler, Quest Magazine, and more.

The articles will focus on a road trip-style vacation plan for visiting several major U.S. cities, some special tourist spots, and general tips for a more stress-free journey. Curious about some of the destinations? Check out a preview below:

On the Road: Tips for Accessible Trips

This piece will serve as a handy guide for wheelchair users regarding items to pack, planning, safety and more.

Boston, Massachusetts

Destination piece on historic sites, attractions and how to navigate the city in a wheelchair.

San Antonio, Texas

Destination piece highlighting the city's River Walk–a below street level park with winding paths, stone pedestrian bridges, shops, restaurants, and hotels. Traveling by car means tourists can see even more: Sea World, a botanical garden, and the Zoo.

Morgan's Wonderland: An Accessible Amusement Park

This unique amusement park in San Antonio was built by the father of a special needs child. It's an affordable and fun theme park with rides and activities that are wheelchair accessible. Individuals with special needs receive free admission.

Chicago, Illinois

Destination piece on the Windy City featuring accessible attractions like the architectural boat tour.

Pensacola, Florida

Destination piece on this Panhandle town with gorgeous beaches, Blue Angels, a fort, and a revitalized downtown.

We are excited to share this special set of articles with you alongside our new blog. Look for it all coming soon!

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: News / Announcements
Published: Jun 30, 2014
The NMEDA 2014 Local Heroes Contest Winners AnnouncedJun 24, 2014
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NMEDA hosted their annual Local Heroes contest and has recently announced four winners. The competition has been running for the past few months, with thousands of entries being narrowed down to the select few winners. The community voted based on the information submitted by each contestant, and the stories they shared. All contestants were expected to hold to a common idea of what a local hero is: people whoVolunteer, Educate, Advocate,Achieve, and Persevere. These four individuals embodied those attributes and received the highest number of votes, and they each will receive a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle courtesy of BraunAbility and VMI.

Local Hero, Antonio Dowels

Local Hero, Antonio Dowels

Antonio Dowels was a high school athlete with a chance to play college football in his race to play in the NFL. He was in the top 10% of his class, and his life was looking good. An automotive accident left him without the use of his legs, but even with his dreams of playing professional football left in the wreckage, he made strides forward. He graduated college and is looking to attend law school to become a sports attorney. During college, he spent his time devoted to his studies, feeding the homeless with his home church, mentoring newly disabled children at the local hospital, and speaking at schools and events. Antonio embodies the spirit of ability, and we hope the vehicle will help him get his law degree and realize his new dream of opening a organization to help underprivileged children.

Linda Stearns is the adoptive mother of Charlie, a child born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She raised Charlie alongside her biological child, and developed Multiple Sclerosis during this time. It only spurned her forward. She soon became babysitter for quadruplets (free of charge), and began caring for her elderly parents. She isn’t even close to done yet. Linda also volunteered with: Cook County Multiple Sclerosis Chapter as a member and supporter, the Garden Center for the Handicapped, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church along with Galilee Baptist Church and Homeless Center. She now continues her service efforts, even after developing and battling breast cancer. Linda has more than earned her title as a local hero.

Local Hero, Linda Stearns

Local Hero, Linda Stearns

Courtney Boyll has spent the last 20 years in a wheelchair after an accident nearly took her life. She was an avid basketball player, now turned wife, mother of 3, teacher and coach. She believes that her job as a teacher has been made more significant from her paraplegia. Her students see her in the halls, the classroom, and everywhere else living a life that overcomes her disability. It teaches a lesson beyond that of math and English skills. Linda is also active in her church community and volunteers frequently. We know Courtney will use her van to further the lives of students even more than she could before.

The Watsons gave birth to their twin sons 10 months prematurely, both weighing in below 3 pounds. Scott and Ian have had a slew of medical issues as a result, including things like quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cortical visual impairment. The twins have to make the trek with their parents on a 5 hour drive to see a specialist. The drive just got much easier with the new van the family will be receiving! Mrs. Watson plans penny drives for her local hospital, and has helped raise several thousand dollars in her efforts.

To see more about each of the winners, check out their profiles on the NMEDA site. Courtney and the Watson family also have videos that are worth a watch!

Thanks for supporting another great year of the NMEDA Local Heroes contest!

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: News / Announcements
Published: Jun 24, 2014
Travel on Our Minds at BraunAbilityJun 09, 2014
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School is out and the thermostat is rising, which can only mean one thing: summer is upon us! It is an exciting time for us here at BraunAbility, as we have some great, new things lined up for the 2014 summer season. Want to know what you can expect to see? Travel is on our minds here as we roll out some new things for you.Wheelchair Accessible Travel

Starting in mid-June, we have a special series of blog posts coming your way on AbilityVoice! Barbara and Jim Twardowski will be bringing us a series of travel-specific blog posts titled, “The Great American Road Trip.” In true BraunAbility fashion, the couple will be writing about popular destinations with mobility in mind. Locations like Boston, Chicago, Pensacola, Fla., and amusement parks are just a few of the topics that will be discussed in depth. Plan your summer road trip with the help of guest bloggers, the Twardowskis, starting next month!

In addition to the blog series, the AbilityVoice blog and BraunAbility website will be traveling as well. The new website for BraunAbility will be launching this June, with a sleek new look, more ways to engage with us, and even better ways to meet your mobility needs! We can’t wait to share the new site and blog with you.

In the true spirit of travel, all of the BraunAbility digital world will be made mobile-device accessible with the new website! No matter where you are, we’ll be there to help.

Our summer is full of new changes and big releases, all with the hope of giving you the best summer possible. So go out and travel, explore the roadways, maybe even ride a roller coaster if that’s something you can do. This summer is all about ability.

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: News / Announcements
Published: Jun 09, 2014
Fencing: A Marriage of Steel and WheelJun 02, 2014
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A fencer once described the sport to me as “chess played at 60mph.” Every move, block, feint and even pose is an effort to out think and outmaneuver your opponent. It becomes a veritable dance of wit and blade when performed at the competitive level. It is something truly artful to behold.Wheelchair Fencing 2012

I only recently discovered that fencing exists in the world of wheelchair sports as well. If anyone thought that wheelchair sports were nothing like mainstream sports, this is the perfect counter argument. This is fencing put on hard mode.

The event is played and scored similarly to conventional fencing, but has some key differences. The wheelchairs are fastened to the floor to keep the fencers from rolling while allowing for the highest level of upper-body movement. The three sword styles remain the same, the foil, saber and epee, and blade strikes to the body are used for scoring. However, with the wheelchairs being stationary, the dimensions of sport change drastically. Footwork is not an option, which places a higher emphasis on lightning-quick decision making and even faster movement of the arm and sword. Striking the legs are not an option either, making defense of the torso critical as well.

Check out this preview video from the 2012 London games to get an idea of how it is played and the subtle variances described in the previous paragraph.

This is an international sport, and tournaments are held all across the world each year. Fencing teams exists as well as individual competitions. It is a highly competitive atmosphere, make no mistake.

Wheelchair fencing made a debut at the 1960 paralympics in Rome. Sir Ludwig Guttmann at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital adapted the sport to wheelchairs before then.

After spending my afternoon watching video after video of competitions and championships, I can confidently say that I can’t wait for the next tournament. Wheelchairs or not, this is a compelling sport, and I’m hooked.



Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: Uncategorized
Published: Jun 02, 2014
My Day in the GardenMay 20, 2014
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“Welcome to the rest of your life.”

I cannot tell you the amount of times I have heard that sentence over the past week. Over the weekend, I graduated from college with a 4-year Bachelor of Arts degree in the fields of Public Relations and Communications Studies. I could go to grad school with those majors under my belt, but for now I plan to enter the work force. Countless hordes of people looking for a conversation topic have asked me about my plans (which usually leads to the sentence that opened our little post), and I don’t really know what to say.

The Lieutenant Governor of Indiana, Sue Ellspermann, was the commencement speaker during the ceremony, and like most graduation speakers, she spoke about how my class and I are the movers and shakers of the world. We are going to change everything for the better. You know what, she may even be right, but it surely does not feel real to me now.Wheelchair garden

While I enjoyed her speech immensely, I am left wondering if that is how I’m supposed to feel. A young man, now armed with a diploma and an education, fighting and changing the world. Well, I must admit I am scared. I have only now equipped myself to begin laying the foundation for the rest of my life. My career, place of living, and the friends I take with me will determine much of how my life will go from here. Am I really ready to take on the world?

In the middle of my weekend, amidst getting lost in worries about how to start the rest of my life, I heard a story. A man worked hard everyday, and always talked about the weather with all of his clients. It seemed to be his only care in the world. When asked about why he cared about the weather so persistently, he revealed that his daughter was disabled and was in a wheelchair. When the sun shined, he could leave her among the flowers of the garden, but when it rained, he had to leave her cooped up inside all day.

“But it’s ok, daddy,” she said. “When I’m inside, I can always read about the garden.”

That story was not meant for graduates, I do believe, but it surely hit home for this one. Each and every single day, we all reside under the same sun, the same rain clouds, and the same starry sky. We are all together, living a day at a time. But each day, even when the sky is falling, is a chance to dream.

So even if I don’t find a job immediately, or I still can’t seem so shake worrying about the future, I know it’ll be ok. I can read about the garden. The garden where Sam Schmidt recently drove again after a car accident left him a paraplegic. I can read about people giving their possessions to those in need. I can read about people finding their ability again.

And I know that my day in the garden is coming again tomorrow.

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: Uncategorized
Published: May 20, 2014
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Wins GP of IndianapolisMay 12, 2014
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BraunAbility is a proud sponsor of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a racing team founded by a man who inspires us here at BraunAbility, Sam Schmidt. It’s been a big month for Schmidt and his team with Schmidt being announced to test-drive a hand and foot-free Corvette, but the team has even more to celebrate now. Over the weekend, the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was won by Simon Pagenaud.Simon and Sam after the GP

Pagenaud won the first Verizon IndyCar Series race on the IMS Grand Prix road course by .8906 of a second over Ryan Hunter-Reay. It was the third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory for Pagenaud and SPM. He started the race in fourth position. He is ranked 3rd in the championship series, 6 points behind the current leader.

Sam and his team have a special place in the lives of us at BraunAbility. Sam was a friend of our founder, and he stands for the qualities that Ralph exemplified in his daily life. Schmidt operates the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, a leading force in funding the research for a cure for paralysis. It goes to serve much more than research though.

The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation gives to and provides for programs like:

  • Day at the Races Program
  • Support our Troops Program
  • Rehabilitation Therapy Efforts
  • Service Animal Projects
  • Adaptive Sports Programs

All of these efforts benefiting people living with paralysis.

As the season continues, we will be watching and cheering them on. If you want to keep up with the team and Sam Schmidt, check them out on Twitter: @SPMIndyCar

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: Uncategorized
Published: May 12, 2014
Sam Schmidt to Help Unveil New Hand and Foot-Free CorvetteMay 09, 2014
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Sam Schmidt, strategic investor of BraunAbility and owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, is a racing legend who became a quadriplegic after a racing incident. For many people, this would mean the end of their racing career, but that may not be the case. The Indy car in Schmidt’s home may not be just a token of the past for much longer.

Later this month, Schmidt will make a special debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a grand way: behind the wheel of a black 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray. As you may have been able to guess, this is no ordinary Corvette. This Corvette represents a series of technological breakthroughs that allows someone to drive without the use of hands or feet.

Sam Schmidt

Sam Schmidt

For someone like Schmidt, this is a dream come true. It is called the SAM Project — semi-autonomous motorcar.

Just use my head, said Schmidt, a former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner. Some would say it's the first time I've done that.

This Corvette is like nothing else on the road. Through a collaboration among Arrow Electronics, Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Falci Adaptive Motorsports and Schmidt's IndyCar team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, it is nothing short of miraculous.

Four sensors on the headgear transmit information to infrared cameras on the dashboard. Head tilting dictates steering and acceleration in 10 mph increments. A bite sensor slows the car. GPS technology prevents movement within 1.5 meters from virtual curbing and within a 10-meter steering width. If all that fails, engineers can take over the car.

Schmidt has been practicing with the vehicle, and the drive will be its first public appearance. Schmidt stated that we wants to average 100 MPH during his laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Schmidt was a long-time Indy car racer.

Sam’s father, Marvin, was a racer as well, so who better to pilot this technology than someone with racing in his blood?

This technology represents the future of mobility for people living with a disability, and may be the key to true mobility freedom for all.

It goes without saying that we are eager to see Schmidt race around the track once more, changing the mobility world in his wake.

Godspeed, Sam.

Submitted by: Micah / Ability Voice Blogger
Category: News / Announcements
Published: May 09, 2014

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