A Winnipeg man living with cerebral palsy says he is both too old and too smart to access support services he once had as a minor — and that's why he's filed a human rights complaint against both Manitoba Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
"It's demoralizing and degrading," Tyson Sylvester told the CBC. "I was meant to do great things, I know I am. But I need the support."
Sylvester, 21, has lived with cerebral palsy since birth. He is visually impaired and uses a wheelchair. He cannot feed, dress, bathe or groom himself without assistance. That's why, as a youth, he had daily access to a myriad of services — things like daily personal care, educational supports in the classroom, occupational therapy, medical supplies and equipment.
"I had a screen reader," he said. "Basically, it was an audio device that told me what was on the computer screen."
That all changed, however, the day he turned 18.
"I aged out," he said.
That's because most of the services were provided through the province's Childrens disABILITY Services Program, which only is only available to minors.
"Apparently, once I turned 18 I didn't need the services I'd needed the day before," he said.
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Most services pulled at 18
As a result, the majority of those services were pulled. Two years later, when he graduated from high school at the age of 20, he lost the last of those services, including the screen reader.
He then tried to access to the Community Living disABILITY Services Program — which would have reinstated some of his key supports. But he was deemed ineligible for that program too, because he does not have a significant mental disability in addition to his physical disabilities.
"They actually made me take an IQ test to prove I was smart," he said. "I couldn't have failed it if I tried."
Today, he lives on social assistance in a wheelchair-accessible apartment. Through the WRHA, he receives a twice-daily visit by different home care providers who help him dress, groom and eat. If he gets hungry later, he has to wait for their evening return. If he needs to use the washroom, he must again either wait for their return or attempt to do so himself.
"If I have to go, I have to basically get myself on the can because I have no one to help me," he said.
The results are often grim — he's fallen several times in the effort and been forced to wait alone on the floor in his urine for the next home care visit.
No community living options, lawyer says
The results are also far-reaching — without access to a personal aide, post-secondary education is not an option.
"I would need a worker to help me write notes, help me get a computer set up or even take me to the facilities during the day," he said. "Universities or colleges do not offer this by default."
His world, therefore, consists of his small suite and his computer, plus a small community of cyber friends he's met via his weekly podcasts, in which he reports on ability issues for the visually impaired.
"He's now left in this gap of service for people with physical disabilities," said his lawyer, Joëlle Pastora Sala. "Because of that, essentially there are no community living options for him."
WRHA calls complaints 'vexacious'
As a result, they filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, citing discrimination based on age and intellectual ability.
In a written response, the WRHA called the complaints "frivolous" and "vexacious."
Specifically, it noted that two of the programs are funded by the province and therefore out of their jurisdiction. The third program, the Manitoba Home Care Program, is only responsible for providing the minimal home care Sylvester now receives and is not meant to replace previous programs from his youth.
A spokesperson for the WRHA declined further comment.
A spokesperson for the province said they could not comment on the case because it is before the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.