Tyler’s Travel Pass: Local man inspires TPS event pass for disabled district residentsWritten by Ashley McMahon | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.”
British singer Adele sings this line in her hit single “Rolling in the Deep.” Tyler Wiley of Toledo — arguably the 26-year-old star’s biggest fan — lives by the same motto. Anyone who’s met Wiley quickly finds out he should never be underestimated.
Wiley, 22, said he adores Adele for her beauty, voice and charisma. He also models her positivity and grace through his own actions. When he’s not listening to music, he’s busy knitting hats for children in need and painting scenes to sell at Shared Lives Studios, a collaboration with Lott Industries in Downtown Toledo.
A graduate of Rogers High School, Wiley has been an active member of the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) community since he was in elementary school. Living with Down syndrome, he inspires and encourages others to respect the disabled community through communication and interaction — as well as his wit and charm.
His mom, Sandy Wiley-Steward, said she had Wiley start speaking at TPS board meetings in fifth grade to help give him exposure to a diverse group of individuals.
“I started taking him to meetings and he would read one little sentence about what he’s doing. Something positive,” Wiley-Steward said. “It was simple, but I was doing it to help him learn to speak publicly.
“If he has something prepared and written, he can read in front of a thousand people. It doesn’t bother him,” she said. “He overcame a lot of obstacles by practicing.”
Wiley put that practice to great use in November when he presented an original idea to the TPS Board of Education. Wiley inspired TPS to create Tyler’s Travel Pass in collaboration with the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities (DD).
The program aims to improve the lives of those in the district living with disabilities. This pass allows disabled community members to attend school activities, including sports games and plays, free of charge.
Wiley’s love for sports and the desire to watch his brothers, Aaron and Ian Steward, play basketball inspired the idea.
“He wanted to go to these three games in one week, and I was like, ‘Buddy, you got a check for $18 for two weeks. It’s $6 every time you want to go.’ He said, ‘I’m going to change that,’” Wiley-Steward said.
Wiley’s favorite sports are basketball, baseball and volleyball and he loves watching his brothers participate on the court. Aaron is in ninth grade and plays for Bowsher High School; Ian is in seventh grade and plays for Beverly Elementary.
Support from his family allowed Wiley to move forward with his initiative.
“His family is so supportive of him. They back him up and don’t just accept things how they are. They allow him to chase his dreams,” said Steve Mentrek, manager of Tyler’s Travel Pass distribution with the Lucas County Board of DD.
“Tyler has a lot of family support. When he has an idea, he can run with it,” added Lon Mitchell, manager of public information for Lucas County Board of DD.
Wiley thought the pass would offer the perfect opportunity to enrich not only his own life, but also the lives of all disabled community members living within TPS’ district.
After the initial meeting in November, Wiley used his persistence to ensure his idea came to fruition.
“He was emailing people every day. He’s very persistent,” Wiley-Steward said.
Wiley’s dreams came true when TPS teamed up with the Lucas County Board of DD to approve the resolution for the pass within one month of his presentation, thanks to the essential need for a program of this nature, said Linda Meyers, transformational leader of community relations for Bowsher and Rogers learning communities.
“Tyler’s incredible,” Meyers said. “He made a huge impact on the board and we all thought this was a great idea.”
“The board embraced it. There is not another district in the region or state, maybe even nationally, that is doing this,” Wiley-Steward said.
This is the only free pass program for disabled community members offered within the Northwest Ohio region, and Wiley-Steward hopes other school districts take notice.
“This is setting the bar,” Wiley-Steward said. “I would love to see all the school districts provide this service for people with developmental disabilities.
“Anything to help them get out in the community. That’s one of the biggest struggles and, financially, it’s tough.”
Mentrek said he’s thrilled to get these passes distributed.
“I think it’s great,” Mentrek said, “As Tyler’s mentioned, fixed income makes it difficult to do fun, recreational events. Especially with the price tags. Just like you and I, they want to be a part of the community as much as possible.”
Mitchell said integration for those it serves is the ultimate goal of the Lucas County Board of DD and Tyler’s Travel Pass is the perfect way to help achieve it.
“We would like to see more people with developmental disabilities sitting in the stands, sitting beside people who don’t have a disability,” Mitchell said. “The mission of the board is to make sure people with developmental disabilities have the same opportunities as everybody else.”
Currently, there are 655 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have a disability in the TPS district, Meyers said. There are also hundreds of alumni living in the TPS district who are eligible to receive the pass.
Community integration is highly beneficial for the city, Mentrek said.
“It gives the general community an opportunity for exposure to individuals with disabilities, which is a huge advantage,” Mentrek said. “When community members have contact and interactions with people with disabilities, it allows opinions and attitudes to positively change.”
This program allows those with disabilities to have a voice and for people to pay attention, Mitchell added.
“It’s a new world for people with developmental disabilities,” he said. “This is something different than we would have experienced in the past, say 10, 15, 20 years ago. It’s a positive change. An opportunity for individuals to interact more with the general public.”
Wiley’s program is already improving the lives of fellow community members with disabilities.
“Tyler is a wonderful example of a self-advocate. [He’s] out there trying to make life better for all,” Mitchell said.
Wiley’s friend BJ Axe, 25, received his Tyler’s Travel Pass last month and said he is excited to take advantage of the opportunities available though TPS.
“I think it’s great that Tyler took the initiative to create the pass,” Axe said.
He said he plans to use the pass for sporting events at Bowsher High School, including basketball, baseball and football.
The pass also increases school spirit, according to Meyers and Wiley. Wiley loves leading the cheering section at high school basketball games, his mom said, and the fans follow his lead.
“The cheerleaders love him,” Wiley-Steward said. “He’ll get up and say, ‘Let’s Go, Rebels,’ and then everyone in the stands will start cheering.”
The Lucas County Board of DD is distributing Tyler’s Travel Passes now. Any community member living in the district who is registered with the board is eligible to receive a pass. People can contact their service and support specialist through the board to fill out a referral form and get approved, Mentrek said. For more information on receiving Tyler’s Travel Pass, contact the Lucas County Board of DD at (419) 385-5771.
“We have roughly 10 requests so far, but with it just being released I am sure we will see that number rise over the next few months,” Mentrek wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press.
According to TPS, the pass will allow the holder to get into all TPS home athletic events for free (excluding All-Star games, City League championships or state tournaments), as well as plays and musical performances at TPS schools by TPS performers.
It was a surprise to Wiley and his family when TPS decided to name the pass after him.
“The fact that they named it after him was completely a surprise. We had no idea,” Wiley-Steward said.
Meyers said Wiley’s charisma and enthusiasm were the driving force behind this passion project, which is why TPS made the pass his namesake.
“It was a natural choice,” Meyers said.