Photo credit:  Photodune

‘I’m sorry, but actually I’m a doctor’

Photo credit:  Photodune

Photo credit: Photodune

By Hamad Aslam

A well-intentioned, middle-aged man came up to me with an offer about a year ago when I was outside a masjid after prayers.

“I have a very good opportunity for you!” he eagerly said to me. I was curious about what this man wanted to offer and I accepted the business card he handed me. “You are probably good at computers,” he said to me in a mocking tone, as if I were a child. “This is something that you can do just sitting at your computer. It’s good for people like you because you do not have to leave your home and it is very easy.”

I listened as he briefly told me about a simple job I could do on the computer while again implying that he does not expect me to be someone who has a job or leaves my home to go out in the community very often.

His approach and assumptions hurt me. “I’m sorry, but actually I’m a doctor” I said to him slowly. He was taken aback and stumbled over his words and tried to restate what he had said.

This interaction is not uncommon for me now. People regularly assume I am helpless. Doing normal activities out in the community is perceived as being out of the ordinary.

Perhaps I should explain myself:  about six and a half years ago, when I was in my early 20’s, I was involved in a car accidentally with my family that resulted in a complete spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury. I was left completely paralyzed from below the chest and have to use a wheelchair. Since my accident, I have had to overcome many obstacles. There is one obstacle, however, that I will continue to face:  the prejudice and stereotypes people hold about individuals with disabilities.

Thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive family and close friends. Though my life had completely changed, my parents never let me feel any different. I wanted to be a doctor even before my injuries and my experiences after this life-changing event made me want to be a doctor even more. My family made me feel like these goals were still attainable, never implying or making me feel like I had to accept anything less.

Unfortunately, not everyone is molded and shaped by such a support system. The above interaction illustrates the prejudice and stereotype that many people hold. And it is a crippling mindset to have–perhaps more so than the actual physical (or mental) disability.

I face looks of surprise and bewilderment when people learn that I am a physician, or that I drive my own car, or that I live by myself, or that I am engaged. Over time, this makes me feel like I am an inferior individual in society and that people will always look at me in an inferior manner.

I am blessed to have a support system that goes against this, but others with disabilities may not be so lucky. By holding these individuals to a lesser standard and thinking that they are not “normal” members of society, what are the long-term implications? In addition to being offensive, are we further preventing the advancement of these individuals by putting them figuratively in a box and making them feel like they are not able to accomplish things like “other” people?

My life is different now and I have accepted that. The wheelchair I use and things I do on a daily basis are not reminders of my disabilities, but of how I need to keep moving forward. This acceptance would not have been possible without the support and love of those around me. Individuals with disabilities have enough internal struggles to overcome; it is time we as a society let go of biases and support each other.

Editor’s note: Dr. Hammad Aslam is a resident physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was in an automobile accident with his family on May 23, 2009 that caused a traumatic brain injury, a C5 brachial plexus injury and a T3 complete spinal cord injury. He has been featured in numerous publications and has been asked to speak at various events, including two TEDx conferences. His journey is followed by people internationally through his blog, His views are his own.


Al Qaid Sets Records at Wheelchair Games

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of,


United Arab Emirates world champion Mohammad Al Qaid set two new world records and another Asian record on his way to three gold medals on the fourth day of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation Games yesterday.

Al Qaid set new world marks in the 400 meter wheelchair (T34) and 1,500 meters, plus a continent’s best effort in the 800 meters to take his tally at the Games to four. The UAE team added nine medals yesterday — three gold, three silver and three bronze — to take the host nation’s medal tally to 37 — 7 gold, 14 silver and 16 bronze.

Al Qaid’s finished the 800 meters with a time of 1min 51.41 seconds, beating Australian Rheed McCracken and Thai Pichaya Kurattanasiri. In the club throw, UAE champion Souhaib Al Qasim came second with a throw of 22.40 meters, behind Poland’s Maciej Sochal, who took the gold with a throw of 27.61 meters.

The UAE’s Aisha Salem Bin Khalid won a silver medal in the discus wheel chair event with a throw of 10.65 meters, behind China’s Feixia Dong. This is the second medal for Aisha in the championship. Her teammate Thuraya Al Za’abi won the bronze medal in the shot put wheelchair event with a throw of 6.04 metres, behind South Africa’s Emily Zandile Nhlapo, who took gold with a throw of 6.81 meters, and Germany’s Marie Bramer, who got the silver medal with a throw of 6.30 meters.

In the 400-meter wheelchair event, Ayed Al Hababi clinched the bronze medal in a time of 53.79 seconds, behind China’s Huzhao Li, who finished first in 52 seconds, and Thai Pichet Krungget, who was first runner-up in 52.84 seconds.

In the shooting competition, Abdullah Al Aryani of the UAE finished second in the 10-metre air rifle (R3) event, scoring 700.3 points, behind Lorraine Lambert of Britain who came first with a total of 700.7 points. In the 10m air rifle (R5) event, the UAE’s Abdullah Al Hababi won the bronze medal with 700.3 points, while Iranian Akbar Alipour took gold with 702.4 points, and Great Britain’s Amy Hursthouse took silver with 700.8 points.

Tarek Bin Khadim, Deputy Chairman of the Organizing Committee and Chairman of the Executive Committee, commended the outstanding efforts of our athletes, particularly the great achievements of Mohammad Al Qaid, who broke world and Asian records in the 200- and 800-metre wheelchair event and another Asian record in the 800-metre wheelchair event, to prove that the double gold medal in New Zealand was not a once-off.

Bin Khadim said the achievements of the “Knights of Will” are the fruit of our leadership’s support of disabled sports, which provided them with all necessary elements to achieve success and excellence. He added that such achievements “will be positively reflected in the progress of our national teams as our champions prepare for new challenges, with a particular focus on the Paralympic Games in London 2012.” The IWAS World Games 2011 is the most important event for preparation and qualification before the team’s appearance in London next summer.

Bin Khadim urged the athletes to continue their efforts and win more medals in the remaining days of the IWAS World Games 2011, which saw historic success for the UAE in terms of both organizing and the many unforgettable moments and victories.


Profiles in Courage: Atif Moon

595DAtif M. Moon of California was recently honored as one of the top ten outstanding Americans by the United States Chamber of Commerce. His story is one of courage and determine to overcome all odds.

Born with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the spinal cord, Atif M. Moon, 24, was given no chance of survival. After three surgeries at the age of one month, he was left paralyzed from the waist down and became wheelchair bound. Moon had three more surgeries at ages 13, 15, and 16 to stabilize his spinal cord, but has not allowed his physical condition to restrict him from living a full life.

Moon currently works for Bertech Industries, an Electronic Distribution company, doing Online Marketing and will be pursuing a Masters degree in Sport Management in Spring 2010. After graduating from UCLA with a B.A. in Business Economics in 2007, he went on to work for NBC at the Tonight Show as well as in Marketing and Product Development. While in school, he served as an intern for Fox Sports TV as well as the Los Angeles Kings. In the Fall of 2006, Moon had the wonderful opportunity to work on behalf of the President by being selected as a White House Intern.

Moon has been involved in sports from his early childhood, participating in a 5K-wheelchair race in 1990 at the age of 5 and then going on to actively participate in wheelchair tennis tournaments around the country. He won his first major tournament in 1998, and since then has been ranked among the top Junior Wheelchair Tennis players in the nation.


As a Co-Founder of the Center for Global Understanding (CFGU), a non-advocacy, non-religious organization to encourage the Muslim American youth to participate in civic engagement, Moons focus has been to provide scholarships for college-level students to intern in Washington, D.C., to understand and learn about America’s institutions of democracy. With the ultimate goal of providing a way to bring people together and help Muslim Americans get engaged in public policy, poverty, health, and education issues, Moon feels that Muslim Americans should play a significant role to make this world a better place.

Moon resides in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

The Ten Outstanding Young Americans program (TOYA) is one of the oldest and most prestigious recognition programs in America. Annually since 1938, The United States Jaycees has sought out the ten young men and women who best exemplify the finest attributes of Americas youthful achievers.

Many notables have been honored as Outstanding Young Americans in the past including Presidents John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton, and Vice Presidents Al Gore, Dan Quayle, and Richard Cheney. Also honored were Howard Hughes, Orson Wells, Elvis Presley, Nelson Rockefeller, Ted Kennedy, dogsled champion Susan Butcher, and actors Christopher Reeve, and Shannon Reed.