The incident occurred September 23 at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida, where he was leaving for a trip to a conference on self advocacy.
Tuitel, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan said an airline employee told him he was “too disabled to fly without someone with him.” Tuitel has cerebral palsy. A flight attendant had helped him transfer to a chair specially fitted for flight prior to an employee telling him to leave the plane.
Tuitel, 47, was on his way to Kansas City, Missouri to speak at the 2010 National Self Advocacy Conference. The theme for this year’s event was “Jazz It Up: Celebrating 20 Years of Self Advocates Being Empowered” in commemoration of the 20 year anniversary of the ADA. Tuitel missed the event.
Calling himself “America’s Pioneer Handicapitalist,” Tuitel gives speeches for sports motivation, nonprofit and corporate events and educational events for elementary school and college. He uses a Permobil Chairman 2k Aeron power wheelchair.
Tuitel said he was very upset that the incident prevented him from doing his job, which enables him to support his family. He also said a person with a disability can determine on their own whether they require an assistant to fly.
“I was left out of the complete decision. Why did they remove me if I’m already on the plane?” said Tuitel.
Tuitel said U.S. Airways has apologized for the incident and has agreed to work with him to improve its policies. “It’s better to educate than litigate,” he said about his plan to work with the airline.
The airline states on its website, “For safety-related reasons, if a passenger has a mobility impairment so severe that the person is unable to physically assist in his or her own evacuation of the aircraft, US Airways requires that the passenger travel with a safety assistant to assist the passenger to exit the aircraft in case of an emergency evacuation.” The airline did not return requests for comment.
Tuitel was born in the Netherlands and was the first child to be mainstreamed in Michigan, where he attended East Grand Rapids High School rather than a school for children with disabilities. He founded the nonprofit organization Alternatives in Motion in 1995 to provide wheelchairs to people without insurance.
Tuitel summarizes his term “Handicapitalism” with a list of three statements – that as a person with a disability he has money to spend, that he participates in a free enterprise system and that he has the ability to give back to the community he loves.
“Handicapitalism for me is focusing on my abilities and opportunities by developing good habits and working steadily to create a successful life. It’s about taking risks, surrounding myself with capable people and working toward a common goal while not letting my disability hold me back,” Tuitel says on his website. “Handicapitalism is my way of overcoming the barriers I face and asking for help when I need it.”
This article was published in the November 2010 issue of Able News. Photo contributed.