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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid