December 14, 2018

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'Locked out for life' appeal makes impact on lunch-hour crowd

Tyson Sylvester, 22, put himself in a mock jail cell Thursday in Old Market Square to demonstrate what it's like to live in isolation as a person with a disability. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Tyson Sylvester, 22, put himself in a mock jail cell Thursday in Old Market Square to demonstrate what it's like to live in isolation as a person with a disability. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

A young man sitting silently in a wheelchair inside a cage in the middle of Old Market Square was not what the Thursday lunch crowd expected to see.

“I thought, 'What the hell's going on here?'” said Kisa MacIsaac. "I was pretty startled.”

Then, she put on the pair of headphones next to the cage and listened to an audio recording made by the 22-year-old in the fake jail cell. In it, Tyson Sylvester talks about being “locked out of life” after he left high school and lost many of the supports and services he needed. He can't continue his education or have much of a social life outside the Winnipeg assisted living facility where he lives.

“It’s not right. People should be able to participate and be able to follow their dreams,” said MacIsaac, who thanked Sylvester after listening to his story.

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A young man sitting silently in a wheelchair inside a cage in the middle of Old Market Square was not what the Thursday lunch crowd expected to see.

"I thought, 'What the hell's going on here?'" said Kisa MacIsaac. "I was pretty startled."

Then, she put on the pair of headphones next to the cage and listened to an audio recording made by the 22-year-old in the fake jail cell. In it, Tyson Sylvester talks about being "locked out of life" after he left high school and lost many of the supports and services he needed. He can't continue his education or have much of a social life outside the Winnipeg assisted living facility where he lives.

"It’s not right. People should be able to participate and be able to follow their dreams," said MacIsaac, who thanked Sylvester after listening to his story.

"This is a really powerful image," said the artist, who was taking a break from painting a bike lane in the Exchange District.

That was the point of the publicity stunt, said Sylvester, who sat in the hot sun, with stranger after stranger staring at him as they listened to his voice on the recording.

"I’m truly locked out of life," said the Transcona Collegiate graduate who has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired.

He and another young Manitoban —Amy Hampton — filed a Manitoba Human Rights complaint in 2016 alleging age discrimination because they became ineligible for support they needed when they finished high school.

Sylvester said he was all for sitting in a cage in a high-traffic public place to raise awareness of Manitobans with profound physical disabilities being cut off just as they enter adulthood.

"I want this to have a huge impact," he said. "I don't think people have any idea of what it's like to feel locked out of the system."

Winnipegger Tyson Sylvester was told by a psychologist that he would be better off in jail because as a person with a disability he would receive better services than he does now. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Winnipegger Tyson Sylvester was told by a psychologist that he would be better off in jail because as a person with a disability he would receive better services than he does now. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

In the first 45 minutes Thursday, Sylvester knew it was having an impact, judging from the comments he was receiving.

"It's amazing," Sylvester said. "You can see the change.

"One person said he'd be more mindful of those with physical disabilities. I had someone else say, 'It's powerful as all heck — thank you for sharing your story.'"

For two young women on their lunch break in the Exchange District, the scene was a surprise.

"Oh my goodness, it was heart-wrenching," said Breanna Hradowy. "It makes you really sad that life can be like that... It's 2018."

In his recording, Sylvester talks about not being able to pursue post-secondary education because he is ineligible for the supports he'd need.

"No one should be deprived of school," said Wendell Llado, adding seeing Sylvester sitting in a cage not being able to reach his potential said a lot. "It's a good metaphor."

Video of Sylvester's cage stunt will be part of an awareness campaign the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba will soon launch, said executive director David Kron.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission responded to Sylvester and Hampton's complaint with an investigation and a report June 18.

In its initial response to the human rights complaint, the province called their complaint "vexatious and frivolous." However, the investigator's report did not, said Joëlle Pastora Sala, the Public Interest Law Centre lawyer representing the young complainants.

"The report is in our favour, and we're encouraged by it," said Sala, declining to provide a copy of the report.

She said they're expecting to enter into settlement discussions with the province and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. "We hope we can work with the province and the WRHA."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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