The year is 1946. You are six years old. Your cousin tells you it won’t matter if you clean off the pills you just spilled in the dirt driveway; that even if you take them, you’re going to be dead before your 13th birthday. Unbeknownst to you, the doctors told your parents that they had a choice. They could leave you with professionals in a medical facility to research the progression of the little known disease, muscular dystrophy. Or they could keep you home while your parents watch helplessly as the insidious killer drains your strength until you are completely paralyzed, requiring 24/7 care until death mercifully puts an end to your suffering.
Ralph W. Braun in his memoir Rise Above outlines this incident as a turning point in his young life. He discusses how he confronted his cousin in his heart and determined he would live to show him he was wrong. The diagnosis was a turning point for his parents who, outraged that the doctors wanted to turn their son into a guinea pig, determined that Ralph would remain at home, live a normal life, be treated as a regular child and stay in the mainstream of society.
It is because his parents and Ralph stared defeat, fear and death in the face and with courage and all their being worked through this cataclysm, that millions later benefited from their pluck, golden rule values and ethic of love. We have his parents’ and Ralph W. Braun’s immeasurable grace to thank for the accessibility vehicles, wheelchair lifts and mobility solutions that have made the disabled community physically mobile, mentally empowered and a forceful political group that manages to provoke politicians to get things done despite their oftentimes gross lack of will to move on legislation for the “little people.”
In his wonderful book Rise Above, Ralph W. Braun on every page inspires those of us who are able bodied to jettison the crippling emotional patterns and mental inertia that can hold us back from achieving greatness. This is a book for those who are sick at heart, those who are emotionally, psychically and spiritually debilitated. Braun didn’t have big dreams; his initial dream was to be self-reliant, mobile and autonomous. Necessity was his mother of invention.
Because there was no vehicle created to mobilize the disabled, Braun created his own Tri-Wheeler, so his father or others didn’t have to carry him around. His was a product that other disabled individuals needed. From pioneering this invention and others, a young engineer with entrepreneurial spirit was born. In his mom’s kitchen began the seeds of what was to become BraunAbility, the largest manufacturer of wheelchair lifts and wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the world.
In his memoir Braun shares how he created his inventions so he could be a productive member of society in an indifferent culture that behaved as if he should be shut away in the house to eventually die. The story outlines obstacle after hurdle Braun faced and leaped over. What enabled him to remain lifted up was though his body was crippled, his spirit was always soaring and engaged. Whenever he encountered the negative attitudes of others who attempted to stop him, he found a way around them and watched them recede into the dust as he continued his rise to success. In every aspect of his personal life (married twice, a father, and grandfather of 8) his will overcame and he moved onward.
What is particularly encouraging is his recounting various incidents when he battled the worst kind of discrimination from others: pity, lack of vision and the fear to dare. Despite repudiation by banks, cupidity of other companies to stop the success and progress of his business, Braun persevered to see those who swore they would buy him out, bought out by him. What is especially telling is how he speaks about those situations with maturity and an absence of malice.
The book is for abled and disabled alike. It is for entrepreneurs who have hit a quagmire in their business and CEOs of companies who continually repeat the past, use old business models (downsizing and outsourcing to maintain profitability) ending up destroying R and D and progress toward being a forward thinking company that creates exceptional products. It is for those, in short, who are liable to use excuses, indulge in pity parties, and those in business who need to understand that it is neither effective nor efficient in the long run to cut corners which result in shoddy products which can and often do cause harm to customers. Eventually, the situation will backfire, profitability will greatly suffer and the fallout for the company will be grim.
Braun shows the efficacy of how to conduct business with high standards, homely values and the right ethos to grow a global company in four decades. As founder and CEO he made a success of BraunAbility, but it didn’t happen overnight. Ralph W. Braun’s is the quintessential American story of inspiration for all of us. It shows how an ordinary human being with the extraordinary spirit to excel, can take adversity and turn it into opportunity, above all, acknowledging that without hard work and tremendous effort, little can be achieved, especially on a global scale.w