Pioneer Handicapitalist

Disability Awareness Month Committee has several events planned

As Disability Awareness Month begins, Ferris has several events in store to increase acceptance of differences and celebrate diversity on campus.

Events planned for October include speaker Johnnie Tuitel, known by many as America’s Pioneer Handicapitalist.

“Having a disability and growing up in a time of change, I quickly became a pioneer in society,” said Tuitel about being a ‘handicapitalist.’ “I became the first student legally mainstreamed in the state of Michigan under Public Law PL94-142. Essentially I was the first disabled student to be moved out of a special school and placed into a regular school environment.”

According to, “Johnnie Tuitel loves making college students laugh through his humorous and entertaining stories of life. He easily puts to rest any tensions that may arise because of his wheelchair and he makes the audience comfortable with his disability.”

Jason Horn, a 2003 Ferris State graduate in recreation leadership and management, said he has seen Tuitel several times both at Ferris and in the public schools in Big Rapids.

“Johnnie’s humor can best be described as infectious,” said Horn. “He takes situations that normally bring people down and makes them funny. He is also not afraid to laugh at himself. Lots of his jokes are taken from personal experience, which makes them more relatable to people.”

In 1995, Tuitel founded Alternatives in Motion, a non-profit organization that supplies wheelchairs to the uninsured.

“For me it’s not about giving back to society out of obligation or shame, but it is something I do because I want to and it is the right thing for me to do,” said Tuitel.

When audience members first see Tuitel in a wheelchair, they might have mixed reactions.

“I think my reaction to Johnnie being in a chair was typical of most able-body people, not quite sure if it was OK to laugh at the jokes about being in a chair,” said Horn. “That all disappeared within a matter of moments. Johnnie has a way of disarming those feelings with his humor.”

Johnnie Tuitel will be performing Oct. 12 from 11 to 11:50 a.m. in the Rankin Student Center Dome Room. Admission is free, but non-perishable food items are gladly accepted.

“I would sell a kidney to see Johnnie again,” joked Horn. “The message he brings is one that everyone can benefit from regardless of their ability.”

Another event planned for October is a showing of the movie Music Within on Oct. 20, a true story of an inspirational American with a disability. For more information about the events, contact Karen GreenBay at ext. 5034 or n