Mark Oldenburg, Toyota's Senior National Fleet Operations Manager, has been honored as this year's recipient of the Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability Award.
The award is presented to individuals "For improving the lives of people with physical disabilities and making a difference in this world."
Mark has been an automotive executive serving the wheelchair accessible vehicle industry for over 12 years. He has been a perennial speaker & panelist for numerous industry events. Mark is also a former board member of the Ralph Braun Foundation and a champion for many vehicle initiatives targeted to persons with physical disabilities and mobility issues.
The award comes with a $5,000 donation to a nonprofit organization of the awardee's choice, which Mark directed to the Memorial Scholarship Fund of the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED), which supports individuals who might not otherwise have access to the driver rehab training they need.
Mark's donation was announced the subsequent weekend at the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) conference in Columbus, OH, to the delight of ADED members in attendance.
BraunAbility presents to Mark Oldenburg the Ralph Braun Spirit of Ability Award for outstanding service to persons with disabilities at Toyota’s North American Headquarters in Plano, TX. Shown (L to R) Scott Nunez, Toyota Mobility Analyst, Kevin McMahon, BraunAbility Executive Vice President, Mark Oldenburg, Toyota Senior National Fleet Operations Manager, Bill Burris, Toyota Fleet Marketing & Mobility Sales.
On the occasion of BraunAbility's recognition of Toyota's Mark Oldenburg for service to the wheelchair accessible community, it was announced that the Toyota Sienna has risen to the top of the sales chart for wheelchair accessible vehicle sales in America, a first for Toyota in this category.
This sales milestone was revealed in conjunction with this year’s recipient of the Ralph W. Braun Spirit of Ability award, which honors individuals who make a notable difference in the lives of people with physical disabilities, often despite overwhelming odds. The award is named for the late BraunAbility founder, Ralph W. Braun, who had muscular dystrophy but did not let that prevent him from inventing the first motorized scooter, wheelchair lift, and shaping a company that today is the worldwide leader of mobility equipment.
We were honored to have 3X Paralympic Medalist Steve Serio join us at the recent Dallas Abilities Expo booth. Many attendees had the opportunity to meet Steve and view firsthand his multiple Paralympic Gold Medals. Attendees were also able to check out 2021 Wheelchair Accessible Hybrid Sienna and all of its exciting features.
Above Photo — Katherine Helffrich, an integration senior analyst with Toyota's Olympics and Paralympics marketing team, receives the award on behalf of Toyota presented to her by Bob Babbitt and U.S. Paralympians and Team Toyota athletes, Alana Nichols and Steve Serio.
Toyota was recognized as Partner of the Year at the 2021 Celebration of Abilities Awards Dinner, put on annually by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
The award is presented to a partner who has made a significant contribution to CAF in the past year and whose values best reflect the mission of CAF.
As a supporter of CAF over the past four years, Toyota has provided vehicles and donations to help provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics.
CAF and Toyota also share the following athletes: Oksana Masters, Steve Serio, Jessica Long and Alana Nichols.
For U.S. Paralympian and Team Toyota athlete Jessica Long, the water is not just the place where she competes. It is also the place where she finds peace. And now, the journey towards finding that private, healing place is to be shared with the world.
Long, a double amputee since infancy, is a four-time Paralympian in swimming and, with 23 medals, the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history. She was adopted into a large, loving American family, all but sight-unseen, from a Russian orphanage at thirteen months, her disability no barrier for her future parents. This Sunday, during the Big Game and in partnership with Toyota, she'll find the spotlight again, this time in a dramatized version of her adoption and road to swimming success, in a commercial all her own, titled “Upstream.”
"Every day, I walk with two heavy prosthetics. I may be a Paralympic athlete, but that doesn't take away the fact that walking is hard," says Long, 28. "The water has always given me so much freedom. Since I was a little girl, the water has been this place in my life where I just didn't feel the weight."
As if to mirror this sense of freedom given to Long when she swims, glides or even just floats, "Upstream" was filmed entirely in water. If the spot only featured Long swimming, that fact would not point to the feat that was pulled off. Scenes of the adoption, Long's family home, and even a sassy 10-year-old Jessica snapping on her goggles in a locker room all take place with water as the foundation.
The 60-second condensed biopic is also a triumph of storytelling. "It's everything," Long says of "Upstream." "It's everything I swam for, everything I've worked really hard for. My biggest hope is that young people see me, a girl without legs in the Paralympics, on TV, and think, ‘I can do that too.'"
Click here to read article: https://pressroom.toyota.com/swimming-upstream-with-u-s-paralympian-jessica-long/
Watch the Super Bowl Commercial: https://youtu.be/fqWG5_7nwyk
December 07, 2020
Pete Bigelow, Automotive News
Reprinted with permission of Automotive News.
For Carol Tyson, a recent proposal that would advance the commercialization of self-driving vehicles brought familiar pangs of frustration.
Like so many others, Tyson, an advocate for people with disabilities, believes autonomous transportation holds the potential to unlock newfound independence and mobility for millions of Americans. However, blueprints for that future are missing vital components, namely vehicle designs and regulatory frameworks that address considerations for riders with disabilities.
Transportation leaders have a long history of neglecting the needs of people with disabilities, and advocates such as Tyson grew alarmed again in October when the California Public Utilities Commission issued a proposal that would have allowed autonomous vehicle operators to charge fares and offer shared trips: At least at the outset, it did not include disability access requirements.
"Promises of mobility access that could literally transform disabled people's lives without plans or real commitments to safety, accessibility and equity is infuriating," said Tyson, a government affairs liaison with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. "It does not engender trust that the 'mobility revolution' will benefit everyone."
But that's exactly what industry executives and government leaders have promised. They've touted autonomous vehicles as a dramatically safer means of transportation, a tool for ensuring that the more than 25 million Americans with travel-limiting disabilities can better access mobility. People with disabilities are encouraged by the vision. Now, they're waiting.
While self-driving technology has been under development for more than a decade, concrete efforts to deliver an accessible future have only recently begun in earnest.
Prominent among them is the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inclusive Design Challenge, which offers $5 million in prize money to innovators. The department sought applications between April and October and is expected to select semifinalists in a matter of weeks.
But with test fleets of autonomous vehicles already populating roads in larger numbers and regulators considering rules that do not address accessibility, Tyson laments that people with disabilities have already been left behind.
"The reason I don't feel better is because we have companies testing and deploying across the country, and none of them are accessible. No city or state even requires an accessibility plan," she said. "It's extremely frustrating."
Advocates this year praised Toyota for its outreach efforts. The automaker provided aftermarket mobility manufacturers early access to its 2021 Sienna minivan.
For people with disabilities, "transportation" can too often be synonymous with "roadblock."
Three decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, problems remain, from ensuring subway stations are accessible to compelling public transit agencies to ensure buses come equipped with wheelchair lifts. The arrival of ride-hailing services brought a more contemporary challenge for equitable services.
In a 2017 National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, 7 of 10 respondents with disabilities said they reduce their day-to-day travel because of transportation hindrances.Advocates for disabled people say the ADA offers little in terms of prevention. It's up to people with disabilities to report violations, file complaints and ultimately file lawsuits. Autonomous vehicles are merely the latest chapter in their fight. If there's a lesson to be learned from earlier experiences, experts say it's that action should be taken now to ensure opportunity later.
"Improvements in access are not going to happen automatically," said Marjory Blumenthal, senior policy researcher at RAND Corp., a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group. "It's not an unrecognized problem, but it does require a specific effort if we're going to fulfill that promise."
Given the time it takes to design and build vehicle platforms, and timelines for offering passenger-carrying autonomous services, the clock is ticking. A 2019 report from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America emphasizes the importance of striking "while the iron is hot" and nudges the auto industry toward making vehicles designed for accessibility, not ones that need retrofit solutions.
"History has shown that retrofitting accessibility features onto conventional vehicles is expensive and complicated and can sometimes compromise occupant protection and passenger safety for the sake of usability," Intelligent Transportation Society researchers wrote.
For personally owned vehicles on the road today, the average wheelchair user can spend $10,000 to $30,000 on top of the cost of the vehicle, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Yet, with the exception of Local Motors, a maker of 3D-printed self-driving shuttles, the report says no automated vehicle manufacturer has emphasized a ground-up design that supports accessibility.
Failure to adopt universal designs, the report says, "would be a tremendous lost opportunity" for the auto and tech industries.
Some automotive and tech companies have pushed further afield.
A scorecard released by the American Association of People with Disabilities and another advocacy group, We Will Ride, in June hails Toyota Motor Corp. for its "extensive" outreach to the community and says it has provided aftermarket mobility manufacturers early access to the 2021 Sienna minivan.
Volkswagen created its Inclusive Mobility program in May 2019 and is coordinating with a variety of advocacy groups on innovations at an in-house design studio in the Bay Area. General Motors and Cruise have partnered with the National Federation of the Blind and other groups to work on accessibility issues in the Bay Area, according to the scorecard.
In 2019, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the industry's largest lobbying group, hosted three workshops that assessed passenger-vehicle transportation, new technologies and their potential impact. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, a coalition of companies working on AVs, has conducted workshops and compiled a repository of information on the subject.
The American Association of People with Disabilities report ultimately concluded "no member of the industry is close to achieving production of an accessible light-duty passenger vehicle right now" and acknowledged COVID-19 has likely sapped momentum and revenue streams that would fund such R&D projects.
Besides equality, there's an economic component to transportation accessibility.
America wastes $19 billion annually on medical appointments missed because 4.3 million people with disabilities cannot access reliable transportation, according to a 2017 report, "Self-Driving Cars: The Impact on People With Disabilities," issued by Securing America's Future Energy, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank, and the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Further, people with disabilities have difficulty reaching jobs that others can easily access. A subsequent report released by the think tank in July found employment growth areas in the modern economy are largely inaccessible to them. In one example, the report said Amazon's 60 largest U.S. fulfillment centers are inaccessible to anyone who cannot commute there via a personally owned vehicle.
That's indicative of a broader barrier. Three-quarters of people without disabilities ages 18 to 64 work either part time or full time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In contrast, only 20 percent of people with travel-limiting disabilities in the same age group work.
"The No. 1 indicator of economic mobility is actual mobility," said Robbie Diamond, CEO of Securing America's Future Energy.
The Intelligent Transportation Society report found overall U.S. vehicle miles traveled could increase as much as 14 percent per year if older adults and people with disabilities gained access to transportation via AVs.
Toward that end, Diamond said the federal government will likely need to affirm the rights of people with disabilities, whether in awaited federal legislation that addresses the autonomous vehicle future or in changes to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that could permit more innovative vehicle designs.
Currently, auto and tech companies can apply for exemptions from safety standards, but Diamond said that's a stopgap for solving the problem. Much like the creation of the interstate highway system catalyzed economic growth, he foresees accessible transportation as a means to harness the potential of millions of Americans at a time of rising global competition.
"We are living in a revolutionary transportation time," Diamond said. "Allowing unique designs and a total rethink of what a vehicle can be is the most important thing that can solve for both environmental factors and provide mobility for those who don't have it. We have to get to that point. This is the profound missing link that we've been talking about."
After the California Public Utilities Commission issued its AV proposal in October, leaders at the Disabilities Rights Education and Defense Fund implored regulators to rethink their proposal in a way that would address accessibility concerns.
"Retrofitting vehicles would be more expensive for providers in the long run," representatives of the fund wrote in their public comments. "Autonomous vehicles should be born accessible."
On Nov. 19, regulators added reporting requirements that compel permit holders to submit quarterly reports that describe their outreach to disabled riders and acknowledge whether they've incorporated any feedback into their services. Then they approved the proposal, paving the way for AV companies to charge for commercial service.
Given California's role in setting the regulatory tone for industry developments, advocates for disabled people are hopeful that other states will take notice and incorporate similar provisions in their own efforts. It's far short of a guarantee of accessibility but at least an acknowledgment of both the concerns and potential that exist.
"Another baby step toward accessibility," Tyson said. "I hope policymakers nationwide will take notice. I'd challenge them to set even higher standards."
May 18, 2020
PLANO, Texas (May 18, 2020) – Aiming to redefine the segment, the fourth generation Toyota Sienna reimagines the minivan to support a wider array of life stages and activities. With a standard hybrid powertrain now across all trims and an array of new tech and amenities, the 2021 Toyota Sienna raises the bar for style, safety, comfort, versatility and fuel efficiency in its segment.
As a mobility company you will be excited to know that Toyota is working closely with our mobility partners BraunAbility and Vantage Mobility Inc. to accelerate development of a wheelchair accessible conversion for the 2021 Sienna. Further information on our mobility conversions will be announced in coordination with our conversion partners at toyotamobility.com.
Steve Serio is the son of Ed and Hilary Serio and has a younger brother, Luke. At 11 months old, Serio had surgery to remove a spinal tumor, which resulted in the compression of his spinal cord. Consequently, he was left paralyzed and is classified as an incomplete paraplegic.
Serio began playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 14 when he was a sophomore in high school. He led his high school to its first national title where he was named the MVP.
After high school, Serio played for the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, going on to lead the team to a national championship where he was awarded Championship Game Player of the Game, NWBA tournament MVP and the NWBA’s 31st National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Player of the Year.
In 2010, Serio graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a degree in Exercise Physiology and began playing professionally in Germany for RSV Lahn Dill. While in Germany, he helped capture four German titles and two European Champions Cup titles.
Serio now plays for his hometown team, New York Rollin’ Knicks. When not training or on the court, Serio enjoys reading, exercising and travel.
Sport: Wheelchair Basketball
Hometown: Westbury, N.Y.
Currently Resides: New York City, N.Y.
Birthdate: September 8, 1987
Social Media: Instagram: @SteveSerio11
Toyota Vehicle: Toyota Avalon Hybrid
Paralympic History: 2008, 2012, 2016
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Team USA and Team Toyota's Amy Purdy tallied a silver medal in the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, competing in the women's snowboard cross event on Monday, March 12.
Purdy advanced to the snowboard cross finals, crossing the finish line in second to capture her second-career Paralympic Medal.
“When I was standing in the start gate, I was thinking to myself that I just want to ride well, show what's possible and do my best,” Purdy said. “I think I was able to do that, which I'm really proud about. I'm thrilled to have upgraded my bronze medal from Sochi.”
Purdy began snowboarding seven months after receiving leg prosthetics at the age of 19, later becoming a bronze medalist in Sochi. A Dancing with the Stars finalist in 2014 and New York Times best-selling author, Purdy is also the cofounder of Adaptive Action Spots (AAS), an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities.
In March of 2015, the International Olympic Committee announced Toyota as a TOP (The Olympic Partner) Programme partner in the newly created mobility category through 2024. In addition to its relationship with the IOC, Toyota is also a Proud Partner of the International Paralympic Committee and Team USA and supports: the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association; US Speedskating; U.S. Figure Skating; USA Hockey and the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team; U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing; U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing; and U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding.
Toyota launched its ‘Start Your Impossible' campaign in November 2017, highlighting Toyota's mission to create a barrier-free society and reinforce the company's values of humility, hard work, overcoming challenges, and never giving up. Team Toyota highlights these values as its U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes serve to demonstrate the ultimate discovery of one's true potential throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.