Ford shows off first wheelchair-accessible SUV at Chicago Auto Show

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This weekend marks the start of the Chicago Auto Show, and there is truly something for everyone on display. (WLS)

This weekend marks the start of the Chicago Auto Show, and there is truly something for everyone on display.

Just because you use a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't have "swag." Ford and a company called BraunAbility are hyping up the "cool" factor in their hot new accessible SUV at the Chicago Auto Show.

Jesse Billauer, 37, was on the verge of becoming a professional surfer when at 17-years-old, a large wave knocked him onto a sandbar, leaving him paralyzed. But that didn't stop his adventures or his leading others to live on the edge.

"When I got to surf after my injury, I just felt like 'Wow, this is still a beautiful sensation,' and like I said, I got that freedom and that independence," Billauer, of Life Rolls On, said.

Freedom and independence are important to many people with disabilities. It is one of the reasons Billauer is teaming up with Ford and BraunAbility to promote the new Ford Explorer MXV. It is the first wheelchair-accessible SUV on the market.

"Personally, I'm not a minivan kind of guy. I like to roll around in style with a smooth profile. So when I first saw it, I thought 'Yeah. This is talking to me a lot more,'" Billauer said.

On this SUV, the door slides open with the press of a button. The vehicle lowers or lifts as the ramp extends or retracts. And there's a moveable driver's seat, allowing a person to transfer to the seat or drive from their wheelchair. The Explorer MXV is up-fitted by BraunAbility, a northwest Indiana-based company that specializes in wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

"We had a segment of our customers that were wanting an alternative. Those especially young, more active lifestyle that wanted an alternative to our current offering, and they're asking SUV, SUV," said Joe Garnett, BraunAbility.

The Ford Explorer has been the best-selling SUV in North America for the past 25 years and is manufactured on Chicago's South Side.

"The BraunAbility Explorer starts around the $60,000 area fully up-fitted where they can buy it from one of the mobility dealerships in the local area," said Omar Odeh, brand manager, Ford Explorer.

Billauer believes the vehicle will make a powerful statement.

"It's going to change the way people look at people with disabilities and I think that's where the conversation starts. It opens the conversation of 'Hey, I might be in a wheelchair, but I still can drive. I still have an opportunity to get out in the world and be cool with a vehicle like this,'" Billauer said.

If you want to check out the Ford Explorer MXV, or just about any other new vehicle, just head down to McCormick Place. The Chicago Auto Show runs through next Sunday. For more information, visit:
Related Topics:
automotiveauto showautoshowdisabilitydisability issuesfordwheelchair accessibleChicago - Near South Side
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