ralph braun foundation

Ralph Braun Foundation Grants for Adapted Vehicles: Andrea Vrobel

Editor’s Note: The Ralph Braun Foundation serves the United States and Canada, and Andrea Vrobel is executive director of the foundation. We sat down with Andrea to learn more about their grant program for wheelchair users.

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Andrea Vrobel

The Ralph Braun Foundation receives applications from either a person with a disability or a caregiver of a person with disabilities – primarily wheelchair users that are in need of accessible transportation.

Getting your wheel chair or scooter into a vehicle that has not been modified for it is very difficult. For many powerchair users, getting into a vehicle without some form of lift is virtually impossible.

For a full conversion, which means that the floor of the vehicle has been lowered, there’s a ramp to make it wheelchair accessible, and the vehicle has been structurally modified, the price may be $15,000 for a manual version to more than $28,000 for a power conversion.

The cost of those modifications are in addition to the cost of the vehicle.

Then if you need hand controls, that’s an additional cost that can range in price from $1,000 to $50,000 or $60,000. You may want a transfer seat or a docking system to secure the wheelchair to the vehicle. So, every piece of additional equipment that a person may need or want is an additional expense, after a conversion, to make the vehicle more accessible.


“We offer grants for up to 25% of the cost of modifying a vehicle so that it’s accessible, with a cap of $5,000.”

Our program is designed to secure the funding to get a vehicle and have it converted. Then additional funds are needed to bridge the gap between having a vehicle converted and getting the other adaptive equipment that someone needs for his or her specific type of disability to be able to drive the vehicle safely and comfortably. We try to help these people financially bridge that gap to get the specific mobility equipment they need to be mobility independent.

How The Ralph Braun Foundation’s Grants Work


For instance, the foundation received an application from a single mother named Robin who had a 10-year old son – Kyle – who had a rare disease, Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome. This genetic disorder affected her son’s brain, immune system and skin and caused him to be quadriplegic and need total care. Kyle was totally dependent on his mother. He also was non-verbal and had visual limitations.

This mother had to provide all the care for her son, getting him up in the morning, feeding him through a tube and dressing him. Kyle was 10-years old then, and of course he was still growing.

At that time he weighed 50 pounds, pushing 60 pounds, and Robin was only 5’2” tall. She was having to do all of Kyle’s lifting and other things.

Because they lived in a two-story townhouse, she had to carry him up and down stairs. To get him into her vehicle, she had to lift him up out of his wheelchair, position him into a car seat and then buckle him into the car seat.


Any time they needed to go to the grocery store, doctors or anywhere else, she had to go through this same process of moving and lifting him. While Kyle was in his car seat, she’d have to lift him up in the car seat and place him into a shopping cart to go into the grocery store and pick up a couple of things.

Afterwards she’d wheel him back out, pick him and the car seat up, put him in the chair in the car and then strap him in with a safety belt. The amount of lifting she was doing, I don’t think I possibly could have done, and she had no help. She had no family or a support group to help her. She’d moved away from home to get a teaching job. With all that lifting, Robin couldn’t take Kyle out for outside activities. So, if she had to run three errands – perhaps to the grocery store, bank and drugstore, she’d have to lift Kyle in and out of the vehicle six times.

Due to this amount of lifting, Robin was experiencing back problems and no longer could lift Kyle without help. She also had developed problems with her neck and her ankles. She began to research accessible vehicles.


Robin learned that vehicles could be modified, so that they each had a ramp. Then she could roll Kyle into a vehicle in his wheelchair, strap the wheels to the floor and use a safety harness to strap Kyle in his chair to the floor of the vehicle. At her destination, all she’d have to do was undo the straps, roll Kyle out and keep him with her, while she did her errands.

Car dealerships throughout the nation specialize in making vehicles adaptive, and an organization our foundation highly recommends to everyone who’s interested in adaptive vehicles is called the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, (NMEDA). You can go to their website at www.nmeda.com  and locate a dealer in your region. Robin found an NMEDA dealership and saw a vehicle there that had been converted.


But when Robin saw the price tag of the vehicle and the price tag of the conversion, like anyone else, she had sticker shock! Robin works part-time, and Kyle receives government assistance.

Robin thought to herself, “I don’t have any idea of where I could get that much money, or where I could get the vehicle that Kyle and I need.”

Then Robin learned that many states had a state-funded program called a Medicaid Waiver. She applied for the waiver program for Kyle and was awarded funding that would pay for about 75% of the cost of getting a van converted. But she still had to pay for the vehicle, so she secured a loan to pay for the vehicle. Any help she could get to pay for that last 25% of having the van converted would be a major help.

She applied to the Ralph Braun Foundation. She explained her story to us, and we awarded her the other 25% of the money she needed to have the van converted.


Who Was Ralph Braun?

1 Ralph Braun2 BraunAbility-History-1962Ralph Braun was born with muscular dystrophy and was diagnosed at the age of six. He lived in a very small community in Indiana by the name of Winamac. The doctors told his parents that Ralph wouldn’t live to be a teenager.

But Ralph proved the doctors wrong, because he lived to be well into his 70s before he passed away.

When Ralph was in his teens, he had to start using a scooter or a wheelchair. Ralph started off in a manual wheelchair, but as time went on, using a manual wheelchair became very difficult for him.

He then built the first electric three-wheeled scooter that he called the Tri-Wheeler, and he used it to get around in his community.

When Ralph graduated from high school, the factory where he worked was relatively close by, so he rode his scooter back and forth to work. A few years went by, and the factory where he worked moved further out of town. Ralph had to develop a way to get back and forth to work in the winter. Indiana might get 3 – 4 feet of snow or have pouring down rain. So, Ralph bought an old, Jeep-style mail truck.

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With family help, he took the mail truck and turned it into a kind of a van he could use to get to work. Ralph received so many requests to build accessible vans like his, that eventually the accessible vans became a full-time job for him. The van building business became the Braun Corporation, which later evolved into BraunAbility about four decades ago.

Ralph Braun didn’t set out to build a mobility accessible vehicle – he just started building vehicles to help him get to work.

He quickly discovered that many more people needed vehicles to help them go to work. By solving his own problem, Ralph Braun solved that same problem for thousands of people around the world.

How the Ralph Braun Foundation Began

Ralph Braun passed away in 2013. In 2010, Braun recognized that he was getting thousands of requests from people who wanted accessible vehicles but who couldn’t afford to purchase them. He wanted to be able to help everyone who needed an accessible vehicle, but he recognized that was an impossible dream.

So, he created The Ralph Braun Foundation as a non-profit and a way to offer grants to as many people as possible and to help try and bridge the gap between the people who couldn’t afford a vehicle and the need for an accessible vehicle.


The Ralph Braun Foundation is a completely-separate organization from BraunAbility. And, the foundation relies solely on individual and corporate companies for funding. BraunAbility has been a generous contributor to the foundation. However, to get the seed money to start The Braun Foundation, Ralph Braun wrote his biography, “Rise Above.” You can learn more about the book and the foundation by going to www.ralphbraunfoundation.org.


Although The Ralph Braun Foundation is only 6 years old, it’s been able to give 54 grants through its program available in the United States and Canada.

The requirements are that the purchase of a vehicle must be made through a NMEDA dealer. And, our funding is not specific to Braun products. Ralph’s mission was to serve the needs of people with disabilities to get accessible vehicles to meet their specific needs.

The three largest companies to date that are doing the minivan conversions are BraunAbility, VMI and ElDorado. Even though VMI and ElDorado are Braun competitors, Ralph wanted to make sure that the person receiving the grant got the conversion that would best meet their needs. These grants don’t have to be just for conversions. If there are other products needed, like a swivel seat for a SUV or hand controls, the foundation can make a grant for that swivel seat or the hand controls, as long as those products are certified by NMEDA.

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You can learn how to apply for one of the grants by going to The Ralph Braun Foundation website (www.ralphbraunfoundation.org). The foundation also will fund new or used accessible vehicles. We post four funding cycles per year with those funding cycles open for one month. You can submit your application in one of these funding cycles. The announcement of who receives the funding grants will be announced two weeks after the cycle. All applications have to be sent in electronically.


To learn more about Ralph Braun, click here https://youtu.beJOczoa-Seck. To see Robin and Kyle’s story, check out https://youtu.be/4G1G416egCE.


Their next grant-awarding cycle will open July 1st, 2016.  Please visit their website at this time to complete an application for funding assistance.

Due to the number of applications received, The Ralph Braun Foundation is unable to accommodate every request. They respectfully ask that you only submit an application if you have thoroughly reviewed the application rules and meet the criteria for submission. The Ralph Braun Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization as determined by the Internal Revenue Service. Your donation may be tax deductible. Please consult your tax advisor for details.

More Fundraising Help from Wheel:Life

10 fundraising ideas to help people with disabilitiesIn this book, you’ll review 10 brainstorming ideas for different types of fundraiser events to benefit an individual with a disability who needs assistance for medical equipment, physical rehabilitation, adaptive sports equipment or daily medical needs.

Throughout the book, author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories from her interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and Wheel:Life members throughout a healthcare marketing career that spans more than 20 years on three continents.

10 Fundraising Ideas to Help People with Disabilities features interviews from:
• Paralympian Bert Burns on how he raised support to begin his career in wheelchair racing
• Project Walk Atlanta participant Leslie Ostrander on how she raised money for additional rehab
• The founders of 100 Songs for Kids on their annual music event to benefit children’s medical charities
• Rolling Inspiration creator Chris Salas on how he lined up sponsors for his SCI peer support group
and power soccer team
• The creators of Hunter’s Torch Daylily Garden, a fundraising resource for a child with special needs.
• The Independence Fund – a little known source of financial support for disabled US veterans.


About the Author:

John-E_-PhillipsFor the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.

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