By Anna Wolfe
By day, Mohammad Sayed creates assistive technology for people in wheelchairs. On paper however, he is Wheelchair Man, a superhero that uses strength and determination to bring hope and peace to the world.
The comic book series, Wheelchair Man, is an uncanny look into the life of a real-life superhero: its creator Mohammad Sayed. ONEder spoke with Mohammad about his groundbreaking comic book series, innovative technologies, and how he is using his powers to shift the public’s perception of people with disabilities.
The Man Behind the Mask
When Mohammad was five years old he lived in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, with his parents, brothers, sister and grandmother, but in 2002 his entire life changed: his mother passed away from cancer and eleven days later a bomb blast paralyzed him, leaving him with a serious spinal cord injury. “When I lost my legs, [and] my family, … I was between five and six years old and ended up in a wheelchair. My father took me to the hospital, and he never came back,” says Mohammad. Fast-forward to 2018; Mohammad Sayed, now aged 20, is an American citizen and a successful entrepreneur. He has come a long way, but he is still driven by the social and emotional hurdles he faced as a young man, “…once you end up in a wheelchair, you’re cast away by society… you don’t get [the same] opportunities.”
The hospital was Mohammad’s home for seven years. To pay for school, food, and clothing, he started a business repairing cellphones and selling them to employees, and also taught Farsi to foreigners in the hospital. When the hospital closed down, Boston-born nurse Maria Pia Sanchez was on her way to Afghanistan. She was asked by Mohammad’s doctor to go check up on the young boy when she arrived. “In 2009, that nurse came, and I met her and she’s now my mom.” Maria adopted Mohammad at the age of 12 and brought him to the US to receive twelve surgeries to straighten his spine and legs. After the surgeries, Mohammad focused on his education and received a scholarship to NuVu, a STEM-focused high school, to learn more about engineering.
“..I am in the land of opportunity, and my American dream, really, is to help people with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs, because I’m in a wheelchair, both psychologically and physically.”
Ever the inventor and entrepreneur, Mohammad had developed his first major invention by the time he graduated high school. In 2015, Mohammad’s invention was selected to be featured in the White House Science Fair and was presented to President Obama. His invention not only sounds like something a superhero would carry (“The Key to Freedom”), but its uses are also somewhat magical; it allows wheelchair users to transform any household object into a wheelchair attachment. The patented design is user-friendly, customizable and pocket-sized and the “Key to Freedom” helps people in wheelchairs to have increased mobility in their day-to-day lives. It saves them money and makes their life easier by making it easier to hold objects; “so if you have a favorite tray [for example], you can make that work with your Key to Freedom, rather than buying a sixty-dollar wooden tray that doesn’t really work properly.”
The Hero This World Needs
Entrepreneur turned superhero? Sounds a bit like Tony Stark? Well, it’s actually Mohammad Sayed’s story. While attending Comic Con in Boston, Mohammad noticed that there were no superheroes who represented the wheelchair community. Inspired, he sprung into action creating Wheelchair Man, a comic book character based on his real life experience.
Wheelchair Man is the first Afghan-American superhero and his mission is one of peace, hope, and nonviolence. One of his superpowers is that he can make a criminal see the consequences of their crime before they’ve committed it, and he has the power to not use violence. Wheelchair Man never gives up, just like Mohammad, who is living proof that disabilities can truly be superpowers.
“In my own story, the reason I never gave up and moved forward was because I didn’t really pay attention to what people thought about me… I always saw myself as just like anybody else. I didn’t have my legs, but I still had my brain, so I was pushed and I achieved the things that I wanted to do, and I want to send that message to young kids all over the world.”
You can learn more about Mohammad’s work and buy his comics at http://www.rimpower.org/