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Why the White House Spotlighted Teenager Mohammad Sayed’s Wheelchair Concept


Editor’s Note: Abandoned in a hospital in Afghanistan at age 5, Mohammad Sayed, today living in Boston, has begun several successful businesses. Thirteen years later, he’s met President Barack Obama to explain his inventions to help people who use wheelchairs. He says, “I want to inspire and encourage others to not focus on what they can’t do but rather to focus on what they can do.”  Wheel:Life’s conversation with Sayed is below.

I was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2015 and had an 8-minute conversation with him. Meeting with the President of the United States was light years away from being abandoned in at a hospital in Afghanistan and living there after the hospital closed and all the personnel had left.

The White House invited me to visit because of the inventions I had developed for my wheelchair. My inventions had been written up in a magazine, and the people at the magazine wanted me to go to the Capitol to present my inventions to President Obama at the 2015 Science Fair.

Mohammad’s Hope and Faith Kept Him Going after Being Abandoned

5Mohammad Sayed

I am from Afghanistan but now live in the Boston area. At the age of 5, I lost my mother, and then 11 days later, I lost complete use of my legs. I suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury during war time in my hometown that left me permanently paralyzed from the chest down. Although my father took me to the hospital, he never returned for me. I was literally on my own and paralyzed as a toddler.

For seven years, I lived at this hospital run by an Italian organization.

During this time, I attended a local school in a village surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan. The generous Italians who ran the hospital gave me a power wheelchair, so I could travel back and forth to school on the rocky roads by myself. In 2007, the hospital – that was my only home – abruptly closed when I was 12. My hope and my faith kept me going and helped make me the person I am today – a person who never gives up, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Adoption Gave Mohammad a New Life in America

4Mohammad Sayed

An American doctor, Dr. William, who once had been my doctor while I was in the hospital, heard about the hospital closing. He was no longer in Afghanistan, and he was worried about what would happen to me. He asked his friend, Maria Pia Sanchez, a nurse practitioner for Management Services for Health (MSH) who was headed to Afghanistan to work, to locate me.

One day on a hot Sunday afternoon, a hospital guard came to me and told me there was a blue-eyed American nurse looking for me. (Blue eyes are very uncommon in Afghanistan). We bonded the moment we met each other.

At that time, I didn’t know she’d become my new mother.

After two years of getting to know each other and nine months of hard work, she was able to secure my humanitarian parole visa and brought me to the United States. Today, I celebrate my birthday as July 28 – the date I arrived in this country and the beginning of my new life, instead of my natural birthday of January 1.

3Mohammad Sayed

Mohammad and his adoptive mom, Maria

Soon after I arrived in 2009 at age 14, a team of doctors and nurses straightened my curved spine and contracted legs that were frozen under me, due to lack of use and years without proper treatment and physical therapy. With my feet out from underneath me, and my legs hanging down like any other person sitting in a chair, I got my first pair of shoes.

I have a great life now. I have a mom whom I love, a beautiful pet bird that makes me laugh and most importantly a home where I feel safe, secure and well loved. I go to bed feeling peaceful and content. But there are some things in my past that I’ll never be able to forget.

Mohammad on American Business and His Inventions

9 Photo_20by_20NuVu

When I transferred to NuVu, my new school based in Cambridge Massachusetts, that’s described as an Innovation Center for Young Minds, I learned that the school had a 3D printer. With the 3D printer, I designed and manufactured the first wheelchair tray holder I needed – the Universal Arm. I created the tray and tray holder, so that my tray holder would collapse and fit into the backpack on the back of my wheelchair. My first tray holder was made of wood and only would support 10 pounds. But now, I’m working with acrylic, which is much lighter, stronger and looks much better than my first tray holder.

We’re learning about how this device can be adapted and modified to solve many problems for people in wheelchairs. The great thing about the Universal Arm is that it enables me to control everything from the front, a real advantage for people in wheelchairs.

Next I developed a tripod holder for my wheelchair to hold my camera steady and keep the camera’s viewfinder close to my eye, so I could take pictures. Rolling a wheelchair and holding an umbrella also was a major problem for me. So, I modified my tray holder to hold a canopy over me in the rain or snow.

1Mohammad Sayed

The latest invention I’m developing has a working prototype and is a foldable portable ramp that will allow people in wheelchairs to carry a ramp with them, unfold it and roll up 3-step stairs where no ramp is available. The user can take this portable ramp with him/her anywhere around the world. By folding up, it also will fit in a back pack on a wheelchair. I’m working on a frame too that will turn any manual wheelchair into a floating wheelchair to participate in water activities. This design is in the conceptual stage.

All Wheelchair Man products are designed to be lightweight, portable, easily stored and operated conveniently and independently by individuals who use wheelchairs. Also, these products will attach to any circular object or tube with an appropriate diameter like a bicycle or a baby stroller. The attachments will be sold in a variety of designs and sizes. In five or 10 years, when everyone will be able to buy a desktop 3D printer, we’ll allow our customers to download and 3D print our designs and provide toolkits to 3D print their own designs.

Currently, I’m working with a research and development team that includes:

  • Qais Akbar Omar, the author of “A Fort of the Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story” about life during the Civil War in Afghanistan;
  • David Estrada, the research and development coordinator for persons with disabilities at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston;
  • Jonathan Fleming, venture capitalist and professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT in Boston;
  • Ann Jones, a journalist photographer and the author of 10 non-fiction books on historical/social/political structures that perpetuate social injustice;
  • Stephen Landrigan, former writer for the “Washington Post” and co-author of “Shakespeare in Kabul;”
  • Donald Lombardi, CEO and founder of Institute for Pediatric Innovations;
  • Oswald “Oz” Mondejar, senior vice president of Mission and Advocacy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital;
  • David S. Resnick, the team leader of the Patent Group who works with startup companies as an attorney at Nixon Peabody; and
  • Maria Pia Sanchez, my mom and nurse practitioner.

obama wheelchairWe’re developing a business plan to sell and manufacture the wheelchair adaptations I’ve invented as a part of my new company called Wheelchair Man.

I’m also working on three comic books – “Wheelchair-Man,” “Wheelchair-Woman” and “Wheelchair-Kid.” Everyone else has super heroes like the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, Spiderman and Superman, just to name a few. I think young people who ride wheelchairs also need super heroes, and these three comic books will be based loosely on the lives of three super heroes in wheelchairs.

In my first comic book, “Wheelchair-Man,” I want to introduce the first Afghani-American wheelchair user super hero. I want to explain, “If I can, you can.” I’m writing the comic book with Stephen Landrigan. I named the comic book “Wheelchair-Man,” because I think people who ride wheelchairs sometimes feel like they’re invisible. People often don’t understand how to approach us, talk to us or interact with us.

I want my super hero – Wheelchair-Man – to help people in wheelchairs to not only be more visible, but to become the type of person everyone wants to talk to and know what he or she can do. When I asked myself the question, “Why can’t someone in a wheelchair be a super hero like Captain America and Iron Man?” I got this idea. I decided that if I didn’t create a wheelchair super hero, who would?

I gave up my job this past summer at Cambridge Community Television where I’d worked for 5 years, to devote all my time to my new company named Wheelchair Man.

A Born Entrepreneur, Adapting Helped Mohammad Survive

When I arrived in America in 2009, at the elementary school I attended, I was the only person in a wheelchair. At high school and at my current engineering school at NuVu, I was again the only person in a wheelchair.

I’ve always viewed myself as an entrepreneur, because when I was 8 years old I started two businesses in Afghanistan to support myself – a photography business and a cell phone repair business. I was the only person in my village who could speak both Farsi and English.

While in the hospital in Afghanistan where I’d been abandoned, I taught myself to speak English by listening to BBC radio programs in both English and Farsi – my native tongue. While I was in the hospital and still a kid, someone gave me a camera, and a man from an Italian aid organization gave me a printer. I made enough money taking pictures and selling them to buy a better camera.

I learned that Afghani people, at least where I lived, loved to have pictures made of themselves and their families.

Because I had no overhead, I was able to shoot pictures and print them much cheaper than the professional photographers could. When my American mom found me, she gave me a nice Kodak camera that produced better quality pictures. I made pictures for personal identification cards, passports and any kind of pictures someone would buy.

2 Eid with Said and Wafa 12 08 015

While I was running my photography business, I learned that there was a big need for a cell phone repair business in Afghanistan. Because so many people were poor, they purchased cheap Chinese made cell phones to take pictures with, but the battery life on those phones was only good for about 2 days.

I learned that a Korean-made cell phone sold in Afghanistan was a more expensive but would hold a charge for 7 days. My customers brought me their Chinese made cell phones when their batteries went dead. I’d buy Korean made cell phone batteries, use Styrofoam to make the Korean battery fit into the Chinese cell phone, sell the phone back to the person who’d brought the Chinese phone in and earn enough money to pay for the battery, my labor and make a profit.

I learned from those early business experiences when still a child that all I had to do to make money was to find a problem and develop a way to solve that problem.

After Dr. William, who had taken care of me at the hospital, and I became good friends, he wanted me to teach him Farsi. I became his Farsi language instructor. When he left Afghanistan to return to America, he left me $500 – a lot of money in Afghanistan. I took that money and used it to start my phone business, buying Korean made phone batteries and adapting them to fit in the cheaper Chinese made cell phones.

When I arrived in the United States I was 12, and today I’m 18. I had heard that America was the land of opportunity, and that was what I found. I realized that the difference between me and my friends and family I’d left in Afghanistan was I was given the opportunity to get an education and learn how to make money in this country.

I think Americans may not realize that a tremendous number of Afghanis are very creative and smart, but they never have had the opportunities, due to war and politics, to fully develop their creativity and their entrepreneurship.

Mohammad’s Goals for the Wheelchair Man Company

10Mohammad Sayed

My goal for my company, Wheelchair Man, is to show people around the world what’s possible for a person who has a disability to accomplish. I want to inspire and encourage others to not focus on what they can’t do but rather to focus on what they can do.

One of my main concerns and one of the goals of my company will be to focus on people in wheelchairs in other countries and help them to become all they can be. Our company started this past summer of 2015. In tfall of 2015, I returned to school from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. When I come home, I sit at my computer, because I’m taking some online courses to learn more about how to operate a business.

This year, I went to the Abilities Expo, because I didn’t know very many people in wheelchairs. I wanted to let them know what I was trying to do and encourage them to work with our team to develop products and services that solve problems for people with disabilities. That was where I met Lisa Wells, the founder of Wheel:Life. Being featured in Wheel:Life has been a lot of fun!

About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites.

He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.

 

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Experience It All At the Abilities Expo!

Days are becoming shorter, nights longer, and the holiday season is ...

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ParaSportsLive: Bringing Adaptive Sports Coverage to the World

Editor’s Note:  When wheelchair user Tony Jackson’s original ...

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Introducing the New Cure Ultra Coude Intermittent Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra® Coude ...

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Get Ready for Rolling With Me’s Each By Name Conference

Wheel:Life, Comfort Medical, and Rolling With Me is excited to ...

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Smooth Sailing with David Gaston

Editor’s Note:  A Texas coast native, David Gaston has been in and ...

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Gain Traction This Fall with National Ramp

Summer is officially over and dreary winter weather is on its way. ...

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Wheelchair Dancers Organization Says Everybody Can Dance!

When life-long dancer Beverly Weurding was diagnosed with limb-girdle ...

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Pursuing Health and Happiness with Malaise Wheelchair Fitness

Editor’s Note: Justin Malaise grew up in small-town Wisconsin as a ...

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Former Ms. Wheelchair Illinois Continues to be a Voice for the Community

Editor’s Note: Born with spina bifida, Kim Brown has been a ...

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Dare to Discover the World of Accessible Travel With Handiscover

Editor’s Note: Sebastien Archambeaud has always loved traveling, so ...

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Made for Kids! The Pediatric Hydrophilic Cure Catheter + Free Backpack Program

Parents only want what’s best for their children and keeping them ...

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Wheeling, Driving, Bowling, Preaching, Parenting…Johnny Hudson Does It All Hands-free!

Editor’s Note: Johnny Hudson was born in 1977 with unforeseen ...

Pat Dougherty explains FreeWheel to a new fan at a recent Abilities Expo.
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The Abilities Expo is Coming To Boston!

Boston awaits with open arms. This September 8–10, head over to the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Change Starts with You – Becoming an Advocate

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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WheelchairTravel.org: Blazing the Trail Towards an Accessible World  

Editor’s Note: After sustaining severe burns during a car accident ...

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The Artfully Gifted Foundation – Serving Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: The Artfully Gifted Foundation (a non-profit) was ...

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How the SCRS-IL Can Help You Live Independently

Editor’s Note: When triple degree holder Jose Gonzalez returned ...

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Peter Arballo Never Gave Up on Himself — Neither Should You

Editor’s Note: Peter Arballo was born in Southern California to ...

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Full Speed Ahead with Endurance Racer Michael Johnson

Editor’s Note: Michael Johnson of Lansing, Michigan, started racing ...

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The Extraordinary Life of Triple Amputee Monica Vickers

Editor’s Note: Monica Vickers was born in 1954 missing both legs ...

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Rick Hayden Rolls on Capitol Hill for Your Rights

When Rick Hayden visited the US Capitol last week, he went with your ...

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Gear Up for Abilities Expo Chicago

Calling all Midwesterners — Abilities Expo is coming to Chicago! As ...

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Run, Jump, and Throw Stuff with Angel City Sports

Editor’s Note: Clayton Frech is the CEO and founder of Los ...

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Sled Hockey with Coach Koz

Editor’s Note: Sled hockey (also known as sledge hockey) is almost ...

Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL
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Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL

Editor’s Note: Mary Marshall, founder of STYLEDWEL, created ...

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Following Your Inner Guidance with Kristina Rhoades and How National Ramp is Helping Her Do It

Editor’s Note: Kristina Rhoades is a mom, wife, speaker, writer, ...

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Comfort Conversations: Finding Encouragement Through Peer Support Groups

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Allen Beauchamp on Life, Love and Hockey

My name is Allen Beauchamp, and I’m 43 years old. I live in a ...

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Yoocan Get Empowered!

Editor’s Note: Inspired by a family member with disabilities, Moshe ...

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Introducing the Cure Ultra: Ready to Use Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra™ Intermittent ...

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Refuel and Rejuvenate At Abilities Expo New York Metro

East coasters, or anyone within striking distance, gear up for ...

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Criptaedo: Breaking Boards and Barriers

Editor’s note: Paul Brailer, aka Criptaedo, was born with spina ...

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Rolling Forward with Amputee Advocate Stella Sieber

I’m currently 63 years old and live in Durham, North Carolina. ...

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Stroke by Stroke: Moving Forward with Mallory Weggemann

Editor’s Note: At 18 years old, Mallory Weggemann walked into the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Finding Your New Normal After a Spinal Cord injury

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Glenn Moscoso: Wheelchair Daddy

Editor’s note:  Glenn Moscoso is a husband and father living with ...

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Avoiding Slippery Slopes with Garth Walker and National Ramp

Editor’s Note: After selling his prior business, Garth Walker went ...

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The National Sports Center for the Disabled: Finding Self-Confidence through Personal Challenge

Editor’s Note: The National Sports Center for the Disabled, founded ...

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Wheeling around the World with Susie Twydell

Editor’s Note: Based in England, Susie Twydell, an avid traveler ...

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Amplitude Media Group: Closing the Information Gap

Wheel:Life is thrilled to announce their newest community partner, ...

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Accessible Hiking, Camping and Fishing? WOW!  

Editor’s Note: Wilderness on Wheels (WOW) is a foundation and a ...

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Comfort Conversations: Events, Free Packs, and More with James “Woody” Beckham

Editor’s Note: The Woody Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ...

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Jenn Sexton Shares Her Secret for Independence: An Extra Long Cure Catheter

Jenn Sexton was five weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Thomas, ...

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Glen Schlotterbeck: Reinvent Yourself!

Editors note: As a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Glen ...

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Educate, Energize, and Enlighten at Abilities Expo Los Angeles

The Abilities Expo is back in Los Angeles and gearing up to show you ...

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Juan Sebastian Betancourt: Changing the Way Businesses Serve People with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: Juan Betancourt is on a path to change the world for ...

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AccessibleIndonesia: Making Travel Accessible in a Non-Accessible Country

Editor’s note: Kerstin Beise, a German physiotherapist, who also ...

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A Lesson on Living Life to the Fullest with Hydred Makabali

Editor’s note: Hydred Makabali, born and raised in England and now ...

Up/Down Team Champions (Top L to R) Shane Hayden, Harold Collins (Seated L to R) Gary Bowling, Kenneth Hill, and Don Law
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Knocking Down The Pins of Life with Wheelchair Bowling Champion Kenneth Hill

Editor’s Note: Fifty-year-old Kenneth Hill from Plainfield, ...

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Take Your Wings and Fly with Denise Horn

Editor’s Note: Fifty-six-year-old Denise Horn of Janesville, ...

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Ashley Hutson Wilson Beat a Small Chance of Survival to Live a Full Life

Editor’s Note: Thirty-one year old Ashley Hutson Wilson from Kyle, ...

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Jam with Mel Bergman: Creator of Wheely Guitars

Editor’s Note: Mel Bergman of Camarillo, California, is the ...

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Gary “Tiger” Balletto: Champion Prize Fighter Who Rolls with the Punches

Editor’s Note: You can capture a ferocious wild tiger and put him ...

9 Robby Heisner
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Meet Robby Heisner: Creative Entrepreneur on Wheels

Editor’s Note: Robby Heisner of Smyrna, Georgia ...

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The National Rifle Association’s Adaptive Shooting Program with Dr. Joseph Logar

Dr. Joseph Logar Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph Logar has his doctorate ...

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The Rollettes Take On an E.P.I.C. Project to Empower Others

Editor’s Note: Chances are, you’ve seen these ladies ...

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Speak Up Now to Save Your Wheelchair: Fight Medicare Cuts

Your window is narrowing to preserve access to mobility equipment – ...

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Go Further Together with GRIT: Stories of Community Support

Our friends at GRIT, the makers of the revolutionary Freedom Chair, ...

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Paralyzed Veteran’s Mom Awarded Dream Trip by ElDorado Mobility

Editor’s Note: Serving our country as a military service member is ...

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Wheelchair Karate: Attack the Attacker with Kenneth Perry

Editor’s Note: Kenneth Perry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...

5 Tom Cannalonga
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Ditch Your Chair to Sit-Ski the Slopes with Tom Cannalonga 

Editor’s Note: Fifty-two-year-old Tom Cannalonga lives in Edison, ...

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Welcome to Wheel:Life

We are so glad you’re here! Wheel:Life is a global initiative ...

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