Innovative minds help tech with spina bifida realize his dream

Austin Frazier, who was born with spina bifida, works as a tech at Kenny Kent Toyota in Evansville, Ind., with the aid of a custom chair created by Ivy Tech Community College. He says it has helped his productivity: “I’m much faster now.”

At your service

An Indiana Toyota dealership worked with a local community college to create a custom-made standing wheelchair so a service intern with spina bifida could more easily perform tasks such as changing tires.

ince opening in the late 1980s, Kenny Kent Toyota in Evansville, Ind., has relied on local trade schools, including Ivy Tech Community College, for a steady stream of workers.

Each year, the dealership accepts about 25 interns into temporary positions on its sales and service staff, and over the years it has hired more than 100 of those employees full time.

The success stories include Austin Frazier, a 23-year-old from Evansville who may be the dealership’s most inspirational employee yet.

Frazier has spina bifida, a birth defect that prevents the spine from forming properly. But that didn’t stop him from realizing his dream of becoming an automotive technician, thanks to help from the dealership and Ivy Tech.

Managers at Kenny Kent Toyota — which has about 180 full-time workers and sells roughly 2,000 new vehicles annually — first heard about Frazier nearly two years ago through a sponsorship with Ivy Tech. Frazier had grown up a fan of Toyotas and owned a 2002 Camry, and he wanted to work there.

Butch Hancock, the dealership’s general manager, decided to give him a shot as an intern in the service department.

“He had a great attitude,” Hancock told Automotive News. “From a technical standpoint, he had it. He had everything it took. He just had a physical disability.”

That made it hard to lift tires and move around the service center, where he worked as part of the Toyota Express Maintenance crew, which aims to perform oil changes and tire rotations within 30 minutes.

A group of instructors and engineers at Ivy Tech reached out to offer an idea: They would create a custom-made standing wheelchair that would let Frazier more easily perform his daily tasks. The dealership agreed and provided guidance about what features the chair would need. Some of the parts came from Toyota’s assembly plant in Princeton, Ind., about 15 miles away.

The custom chair greatly improved Frazier’s productivity.

“I’m much faster now,” he said. “At Toyota Express Maintenance, we have to get cars in and out, and it’s easier for me to use the standing chair to carry custom tires. It’s also way easier for my comrades, because they can set the lift at a height that makes it easier for them to walk around the vehicle.”

Hancock said the Express Maintenance team typically goes through 75-100 appointments a day. Workers rotate tires, check sensors and change oil, among other tasks.

Austin Frazier’s attitude made hiring him full time an easy choice.

Frazier was such a good intern that Hancock hired him full time last June.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said.

The dealership has shared Frazier’s story privately within Toyota but hadn’t publicly circulated the story, Hancock said, because it didn’t want to look as if it were just seeking publicity.

He said he has learned a lot from Frazier, including how to maintain a good attitude despite challenges.

“A lot of the time, attitude is everything,” Hancock said. “He had a passion, a desire to do the work he’s doing. He didn’t let his physical challenges get in the way of reaching that.”

He said Frazier’s attitude has filtered down throughout the shop and that many coworkers look to him for inspiration.

“This opened my eyes to people with disabilities,” Hancock said. “If they have that passion to get it done, and the desire in whatever field it is, there’s a lot of young people that just need a chance.”

At your service

An Indiana Toyota dealership worked with a local community college to create a custom-made standing wheelchair so a service intern with spina bifida could more easily perform tasks such as changing tires.

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