"Can I come in?": A conversation with accessibility advocate, Alex Lytwyn - Easter Seals Canada

Can I come in?: A conversation with accessibility advocate, Alex Lytwyn

Accessibility advocate, Alex Lytwyn, has become a pretty well-known and recognizable figure in Manitoba these days, partly due to the visibility of his role as an Ambassador for Easter Seals Manitoba (aka Manitoba Possible), but also because of an increasingly popular video series on social media which he started last year called, “Can I come in?”, where Alex shares first-hand insights into the physical accessibility of various public locations and venues, both in Manitoba and elsewhere in Canada. Recently, we caught up with Alex to learn more about him and the “Can I come in?” video series.

Above: A brief video message from accessibility advocate, Alex Lytywn.

Hi Alex! For the benefit of those who don’t know you, can you tell us about yourself: who you are, your background, and what drives and motivates you?

My name is Alex Lytwyn. I am from Winnipegosis, Manitoba. I am 37-year-olds, with Cerebral Palsy and a powerchair user. I’ve written two books that have yet to be published. Additionally, I write freelance pieces, craft campaigns, and contribute to First Person perspectives on CBC Manitoba. I also have certificates in Business Administration and in Applied Counselling from Assiniboine Community College.

I take tremendous pride in being a disability advocate. I will always continue to push and stand up for the closing of disability-related gaps. Within society and government, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make the world truly inclusive and accessible.

Can you speak about your connection to  Easter Seals/Manitoba Possible?

I’ve been connected with Manitoba Possible for nearly 30 years. One of the ways I advocate for disability matters is through being an ambassador. Currently, I am in my second term as the adult ambassador for Manitoba Possible, an organization that has played a crucial role in the person I’ve become. It has been a true honour representing them and working together towards an inclusive and accessible society. Sometimes that work takes me to unexpected places, like the top of the Manitoba Hydro Building, where I rappelled 272 feet down in support of Manitoba Possible and Easter Seals Canada.

What has the connection with Manitoba Possible and Easter Seals meant for you?  

This connection has helped me succeed in life, and show society that my disability does not define my being.

What can you tell us about Willpower Media and the “Can I Come in” video series?

My latest passion is the creation of my own company, Willpower Media (willpowermedia.ca) – a venture with my best friend, Karen, that encourages bravery, motivation, and pushing beyond limits.

I am the host of the social media series, now in Season Two, called “Can I Come In?”. These short but very in-depth videos, give viewers a look into the  experiences of someone who uses a powerchair while accessing public spaces and businesses. You can view the videos and follow along on all social media platforms, including on YouTube, by searching for @AlexLytwyn.

What prompted you to start the “Can I come in?” videos, and what do you hope to achieve with them?

We wanted to raise awareness about accessibility and what it truly means for an establishment to be truly accessible. One of the biggest factors in the creation of “Can I come in?” was the fact that the word “accessible” is used much too loosely.  A prime example of this is accessible public washrooms.  For the most part, they are much too small and there’s not enough room for me, my helper and powerchair.

You have done quite a number of the “Can I come in? videos now. What have you learned or found out in making the video series which you want people, businesses, and organizations to know?

We have learned a lot. Society is beginning to see that disabilities do not define people. So many times, all people see or hear is the individual’s disability.  It’s a must to treat the person [with disability] with respect and interact directly with them, not around them.

Also, Canada and the world, has a long way to go to be fully accessible. Actions speak louder than words.  The word accessible can be put anywhere, but that does not mean that a space is truly accessible and that disabled people can get around everywhere. For example, one aspect that comes to mind is the location of automatic door buttons, if there is even one to begin with at all. Often, they are placed in very awkward locations.

In watching the videos, I hope that people can see and understand how much disabled individuals have to go through just to access the simplest things. Improving on the accessibility of these littlest aspects can go a long way to unleashing a person’s ability.

Are there any interesting highlights or stories in filming and making the videos so far that you can share with us? 

We do get noticed more in public now. We have people from all over contacting us about Willpower Media.  One time, this little boy came running up to me in a store.  He was so excited to meet me.  He had seen my ambassador work and videos. It was a great feeling.  Fans also often say to Karen and I, “We love your work.  You’re so inspiring.”  This happens both in person and on social media.

Photo of a bespectacled,, smiling man, with short hair and seated in a powerchair outdoors in the snow.

Above: A photo of accessibility advocate, Alex Lytywn.

Above: A photo of Alex, together with his best friend, Karen. 

Photos courtesy of Alex Lytwyn

Canada and the world, has a long way to go to be fully accessible. Actions speak louder than words. The word accessible can be put anywhere, but that does not mean that a space is truly accessible and that disabled people can get around everywhere…

[Also,] society sometimes misses the mark when it comes to including and accommodating disabled rural Canadians. Disabled people who live in rural Canada often get short-changed. ~ Alex Lytwyn

Several episodes from the Can I come in? series

Apart from the “Can I come in?” video series, are you working on or planning any other projects/activities at the moment that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

Yes, we do indeed have some projects in the kitty. Stay tuned to my socials though, to see what we’re up to next.

What would you say are accomplishments to-date, that you are most proud of ?

In spite of the obstacles that I have encountered, I have never laid down and let my disability and societal barriers leave me on the sidelines. Rather, I carve out a relationship with my Cerebral Palsy to see how we can work together for the greatest success. I love hockey and though I cannot skate, I still want to be part of the game. Being physically disabled, it has been important to show society that we can ALL be involved.

Through tireless effort and dedication, I was hired as the video coach for the under 18, AAA Parkland Rangers Hockey Club.

Are there any messages that you’d like to share with people who are reading this article?  

Until the end of my days, it is my mission to show society that – through inner strength and belief – no goal is unattainable. Being from rural Canada, nothing in life has come easy but this has not stopped me from busting through every obstacle that have been put in my life’s path and from succeeding to the fullest.

Society sometimes misses the mark when it comes to including and accommodating disabled rural Canadians. Disabled people who live in rural Canada often get short-changed. Organizations that help these people only get a certain amount of funding and these funding, unfortunately, usually do not go far enough where everyone everywhere is covered. Urban area residents tend to receive priority when it comes to funding for programs, etc. The federal government must step up and make sure every disabled citizen is taken care of. The stereotype that disabled people – especially those living in rural communities – all get treated the same, must be changed.

Just like the abundance of Canada’s natural resources, we must be sure to tap into the talents of every disabled Canadian. Together, we can excavate and discover one of Canada’s most important and endless resources: “disabled potential.”

To learn more about Alex or to reach out to him, visit his website at willpowermedia.ca.

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