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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs