The Para Ladder, invented by Mandeville resident René de la Tour of We Care Designs, helps wheelchair users move from their chairs to the floor and back without further assistance. In recognition of de la Tour’s ingenuity, Louisiana Economic Development (LED) has featured We Care Designs for Louisiana Innovation Month.
“It was really an honor,” de la Tour said. “We were up against some big hitters.”
René de la Tour, right, shakes hands with Covington resident Mat Cole, a Wounded Warrior who trained on de la Tour’s Para Ladder during his rehabilitation. (courtesy photo)
LED described innovation as that which “meets previously unmet needs, and/or spurs new thinking through creating something new and different, altering the use of existing forms or ideas, or expanding/redefining the bounds of the possible or feasible.”
De la Tour’s Para Ladder certainly fits the description.
A car accident paralyzed de la Tour as a college student in 1966. As an adult, he fell from his wheelchair while gardening and could not return on his own. Though he researched devices that would assist him in the future, de la Tour said he found nothing on the market and decided to build his own.
He went through 35 prototypes before inventing the Para Ladder.
Now, according to de la Tour, the Para Ladder is being used in every major rehabilitation facility in the country.
Michael Tomlinson, economic development specialist for the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (STEDF), connected de la Tour with workforce, manufacturing and possible funding resources.
“STEDF has helped in putting me in contact with Wounded Warrior representatives,” de la Tour said. “A guy like Michael, they have all the contacts at their disposal, so it really makes your life a whole lot easier.”
De la Tour hopes to involve Wounded Warriors in every phase of the Para Ladder manufacture process.
“I have also helped him establish working relationships with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana and the Louisiana Workforce Commission,” Tomlinson said. “Generally trying to connect him with all available resources that I can put my hands on.”
The Louisiana Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) nominated We Care Designs for Louisiana Innovation Month. De la Tour said Cindy Carrier of PTAC also helped him contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“She managed to take that confusing path and make it simplistic,” he said. “I was immediately able to start doing business with the VA.”
LED will feature a Louisiana Innovator on its website every business day in November. De la Tour was featured on Monday, the day before Veterans Day.
LED Secretary Stephen Moret said, “Louisiana Innovation Month represents an opportunity to recognize Louisiana innovators and to encourage further diversification of our economy and enhancement of Louisiana’s economic competitiveness.”