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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora