Maryland Homes and Gardening
- Category: Community
- Published on Thursday, 16 August 2012 08:16
- Written by Desiree Smith-Daughety
It was an accident that brought Centreville, Maryland, resident, Jeff Walker, a nomination for The Daily Record's 2011 "Innovator of the Year" award, for a brake system he developed.
To understand how Jeff got there, you need to go back about a decade. In 2001, Jeff experienced something that can happen to any of us. While attending an event at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, he was caught in a thunderstorm, slipped on a pipe that was underwater, and fell. What was different for Jeff was that the fall broke his neck between the C5 and C6 vertebrae, rendering him a quadriplegic.
Jeff spent time in shock trauma, and then went through rehabilitation. "As a promise to myself, I was trying to regain as much as I could. When I reached a plateau, I decided to get back out in the community, start working," he says.
That's when some serious frustrations arose—namely, the state-managed system of vehicle modifications that are supposed to help the disabled drive.
"I'd had a couple close calls, like a steering device that used to be the "go to" thing. People are given this to drive with, whether you can hold onto it or not," he explains. Jeff found himself in that situation—unable to hold on to the steering device and suddenly crossing four lanes of traffic.
It's said that necessity is the mother of invention, and these frustrations motivated Jeff to tackle the way things have always been.
He decided to create something innovative and useful for disabled people: vehicle modification that works with the vehicle of their dreams, providing an option beyond the standard, state-approved, modified mini-van, which doesn't work for everyone.
Initially, Jeff just wanted to make modifications for himself, based on what he was experiencing. It was not intended to be a business. It bothered Jeff to think he could lose another aspect of independence—the ability to simply get in a vehicle and go where he wanted, when he wanted.
So he bought the truck of his dreams, and he and his father, Skip, figured they could probably combine their mechanical abilities to find a way to modify the truck without chopping it up, as several auto shops had already advised.
Jeff couldn't afford formal CAD training to learn how to use computer design software to draft his ideas, so he taught himself. He began with drawings, and then Skip handled the fabricating of the prototypes to be tested. (Jeff tests everything himself before he recommends it, working out any design issues.)
It took Jeff roughly three or four years of trial and error before he had a magnetic braking system and the steering system he wanted. The innovative braking system, which won him "Innovator of the Year," reduces the amount of force needed to execute a stop, while the steering system provides a safe way to steer with limited or no hand/wrist function.
When the final designs were drawn up, Jeff submitted them to a patent attorney. Two years later, he is about to officially hold those patents.
For Jeff, the benefits are two-fold. He now has products he can use that are safe and affordable, offer independence and self-sufficiency, and can be moved to a new vehicle as needed.
The other benefit? "I have a vehicle I want and like."