News / USA

Disabled Drivers Look for Flashier Transportation Options

Four-wheel drive vehicles adapted for wheelchairs

Steve Kitchin demonstrates his prototype invention. With the touch of a button he simply backs the chair in, and the elevator-like lift raises up and slides into the cab.
Steve Kitchin demonstrates his prototype invention. With the touch of a button he simply backs the chair in, and the elevator-like lift raises up and slides into the cab.

Multimedia

Audio
Erika Celeste

Last spring, Steve Kitchin had had enough. For 10 years — since an auto accident left him a quadriplegic — he'd been driving a minivan, modified with hand controls for the gas and brake. At the time, that was the only type of vehicle available for disabled drivers.

But Kitchin wanted a four-wheel drive pickup truck. "A minivan is kind of the family truckster type of thing, and I didn't want to be the soccer mom type," he says. "[It was] kind of emasculating, just a little bit, going from a truck to a van."

A design to his specifications

No one was making what he wanted, so Kitchin — a former advertising executive — decided to do it himself.

With the help of a few friends, Kitchin designed a lift that could handle his 680-kilo wheelchair and fit completely inside his new, red GMC Sierra.

A worker prepares a GMC door to be attached to the lift.
A worker prepares a GMC door to be attached to the lift.

He starts the vehicle remotely. Then, with the push of a button, the elevator-like lift slides out and lowers to the ground so he can back his wheelchair onto it. Another button raises the lift, returning it to its position in front of the steering wheel.

The driver's side door is welded to the lift, so the entire mechanism slides open like a drawer, then lowers to the ground. That design feature means Kitchin's truck doesn't need any more room to park than a regular vehicle so he doesn't have to park in an extra-wide disabled space.

Kitchin thought he had something other drivers like him would want, so he decided to start a company. He called it GoShichi, which is Japanese for five and seven, nostalgic numbers from his days as an athlete.

Word of the new modification spread quickly, and orders began pouring in, even before he had a factory to produce them. Little did Kitchin know, the downturn in the economy was about to boost GoShichi to the next level.

Steve Kitchin designed a wheelchair lift for pick-up trucks.
Steve Kitchin designed a wheelchair lift for pick-up trucks.

Closed dealership becomes working factory

Enter Tom Kelley, president of Kelley Automotive Group, which owns several car dealerships in Fort Wayne.

His Saturn dealership closed when GM stopped manufacturing the line to save itself from bankruptcy. He says the news "was like a dagger to my heart." But when he heard about Steve Kitchin's ambitious new company, he offered his empty Saturn building for its factory.

"My dad's favorite line was he never did anything on his own. That everything that ever happened to him that was significant happened because people lent him a helping hand. So I just sort of thought, you know, my dad would be all over this and I said Steve, 'Go, start using the building. We'll figure it out.'"

GoShichi began production in January. It's not only filling a void for disabled drivers, it's creating new jobs. Kitchin says he currently employs 17 workers, but eventually plans to hire as many as 200.

Rather than having an assembly line where the trucks are constantly moving, GoShichi rotates its workers. This eliminates the need for expensive assembly line equipment, which keeps the cost of Kitchin's conversions similar to that of a modified minivan.

Kitchin uses a specially adapted wheel to steer his vehicle.
Kitchin uses a specially adapted wheel to steer his vehicle.

Kirk McKenzie, who was laid off from a forklift factory, says his new job with GoShichi is a better fit. "It makes you feel good at the end of the day."

A growing need

There are 10,000 new spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Most are young men under the age of 26. Although thousands of minivans are converted for use by disabled drivers each year, most young men —disabled or not —would rather be driving anything but a minivan.

GoShichi is converting 30 trucks a month, and Kitchin hopes to double that number by the end of the year. The company is already creating a ripple effect in the local economy. Its suppliers say their businesses are starting to pick up. Kelly's truck dealership is selling more vehicles to GoShichi to be converted, and an RV manufacturer down the road is asking for help building modified campers.

Kitchin is already focusing on the future. "We're really looking forward to where all this can take us."

He has plenty of other ideas for disabled drivers. After his success with pickup trucks, he hopes to move on to the big rigs, modifying tractor-trailers to give disabled truckers a chance to go back to work.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid