Disability Awareness Advocate Entertains, Inspires
Audience members will "laugh their socks off" when disability awareness advocate Johnnie Tuitel speaks at Alma College.
“Most people wouldn’t think that going to a talk about disabilities would be funny, but Tuitel is quite the comedian,” says Jennifer Starkey, an Alma College librarian who has seen Tuitel speak. “I think his humor helps make his audiences feel comfortable hearing about the challenges he and other people with physical disabilities face.”
Tuitel speaks at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24 at Alma College’s Remick Heritage Center. Admission is free and open to the public.
Tuitel, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, loves making students and audience members laugh through his entertaining stories of life. He easily puts to rest any tensions that may arise because of the wheelchair and his disability, says Starkey.
In 1974, Tuitel became the first student with a disability in Michigan to be mainstreamed into the public school system. He not only completed public schooling but went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Hope College. Tuitel currently lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Deb, and their three sons.
Tuitel does more than speeches to help and inspire the public. To help young persons better understand disabilities and the value of acceptance, he co-wrote The Gun Lake Adventure Series, a group of four books that features a fictionalized version of Tuitel named Johnnie Jacobson. An uncommon protagonist, Jacobson is a preteen sleuth who, from his wheelchair, leads a group of friends on mystery-solving adventures.
Mentors and mentees involved with the Mentor PLUS program, a collaboration of volunteers at Alma College and students at Alma Middle School, are reading these books, which can be found at almost any local library. They are looking forward to meeting the author in person when Tuitel speaks at an Alma Middle School assembly on Oct. 24.
In 1995, Tuitel and business partner George Ranville started the nonprofit organization Alternatives in Motion with the mission to provide wheelchairs for people who cannot afford them. Since that time, Alternatives in Motion has donated more than 300 wheelchairs and raised more than $1.4 million in cash and gifts-in-kind donations. It is the only organization of its kind to pay 100 percent of the costs associated with purchasing a wheelchair.
Tuitel’s presentation is a feature event at Alma College for National Disability Awareness Month, organized and sponsored by Project:Able and Service Learning through a venture grant from Michigan Campus Compact. Project:Able is a collaboration between the College’s Education department, Service Learning House, Provost Office, Non-traditional Student Organization and students, with additional help and involvement from Alma Middle School, Pine Avenue Elementary School and the Explore After School program.
“His talk is incredibly inspirational,” says Starkey. ”No matter who you are, you will leave with a renewed optimism about facing challenges in your own life.”
Posted: Fri, October 12th, 2007 at 9:52AM