Powering Mobility Solutions, and Empowering a Toyota Team Member in the Process

Through teamwork and empathy, anything is possible. 
 
Just ask Gabe Marciano, who started his career with Toyota in 2006 as an engineer in training. Fast forward to his current role as a powertrain engineer stationed at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia (TMMWV), where he spends much of his day walking the expansive manufacturing floor. For the average person, this type of aerobic activity can help meet fitness goals, allowing physical activity to break up the workday. But Marciano has mitochondrial disease, a rare disorder where the mitochondria in his cells do not produce enough energy.
 
“I have an invisible disease,” says Marciano. “My disease is incredibly rare, and I represent the tiniest fraction of people receiving its diagnosis — the ‘still-here’ sector. But I am one of the lucky ones. Read that again — it’s true. I am blessed and lucky to be who I am, and where I am.”
 
Over the years, his disease has progressed, becoming physically taxing for Marciano to do his job – walking the plant, observing manufacturing work, investigating layouts and studying equipment. Marciano would go home to his family at the end of each day feeling exhausted.
 
In early 2018, Marciano requested, and was granted, a special accommodation: he was allowed to use a golf cart to move between buildings at work. This helped — for a while.
Freedom to Move Gabe Marciano using his new powered wheelchair on the shop floor at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia. 

“While good for a time, by the end of 2018, it became apparent my condition was progressing,” says Marciano. “I was experiencing more weakness in my legs and was no longer able to be on my feet for more than a few minutes without significant pain. I was still able to complete most of my daily tasks, but had zero energy left at the end of day when I went home to my family.”
 
The golf cart provided mobility support where none had previously existed, but further accommodation was necessary. Marciano asked Human Resources for permission to swap the golf cart for a mobility scooter. He had used one on vacation and loved how it increased his mobility without zapping his energy. The scooter, however, posed safety concerns at work because it would need to drive within traffic aisleways, alongside conveyance vehicles.
 
Using the reasonable accommodation process, Marciano advocated for himself during meetings by transparently sharing the nature of his disease and the challenges he was facing and by diligently fostering dialogue about his needs. Sharing this information and seeking opportunities for discussion enabled an appropriate support system, which is essential to promoting disability awareness and providing accommodation.
 
Working together through open communication channels, the Plant Engineering Safety team was determined to find an alternative mobility solution, and through weekly communications with HR, the use of Marciano’s personal power chair for office and plant floor use was proposed and granted. Phil Bluck, senior engineering manager with PE Safety, was heavily involved in the process. 
 
“Gabe should be able to operate on the shop floor like any other pedestrian,” says Bluck. “The appropriate safety rules apply. We still have work to do and we are learning along the way. We still need to see if this is the best powered chair for Gabe, or if we can improve it.”
 
So far, it’s proven to be a better mobility solution for Marciano, and he feels more comfortable at work.
 
On the Move – Marciano’s new powered wheelchair empowers him to complete his daily work tasks with less pain and stress than earlier mobility solutions he tried. 

“The assistance and collaboration of TMMWV plant Safety, HR, PE Safety and countermeasures, allowed my powered chair to act as a simple extension of my body,” Marciano says. “I may have an invisible disease which can be limiting, but I now fulfill my role within Toyota with much less pain. I have a reserve of energy at the end of the day, and this accommodation has greatly improved my work-life balance.” 
 
By Susan Johnston Taylor