Christopher Shay, who is Deaf, applied for income assistance in September 2014, but had to wait 5 weeks to receive a welfare cheque. Mr. Shay, who had received eviction notices because he couldn’t pay his rent, also told the Ministry that he had an immediate need for assistance, a request that according to the Ministry’s service standards should have resulted in him receiving assistance on an expedited basis. Throughout the application process he faced numerous accessibility issues because the Ministry did not accommodate his communication needs by providing an ASL interpreter.
Mr. Shay, with the assistance of lawyers at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, filed a human rights complaint against the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation alleging that the delays were discriminatory and the Ministry failed to accommodate his disability. The Ministry entered into settlement negotiations with Mr. Shay, and agreed to make a series of changes in order to accommodate people who are Deaf and have other communication barriers.
Some of the changes that the Ministry has agreed to make include asking specifically whether applicants for assistance have a communication barrier, offering to communicate with applicants in writing using email, arranging for in-person application meetings with sign language interpreters on an expedited basis, and assigning applicants who are Deaf to a newly-created Specialized Intake Unit trained in accommodating people who have communication barriers.
Mr. Shay’s battle with the Ministry didn’t end there. He took on another human rights case to ensure that Deaf people can afford to meet their accessibility needs while receiving disability assistance. Mr. Shay depends on his smart phone and home Internet to complete essential day to day tasks, such as communicating with his landlord and employer, who do not understand Sign language, and making appointments with service providers. Mr. Shay also relies on his smart phone and home Internet for social inclusion, in order to communicate with friends in Sign language via video-conferencing technologies and participate in online communities.
In 2015, Mr. Shay applied for MSDSI’s “Hearing Instrument” supplement and specifically requested a payment of $100 per month to fund the costs of his smart phone and home Internet. However, MSDSI denied his application because the “Hearing Instrument” supplement was only available to fund the costs of hearing aids and Cochlear implants. Mr. Shay then decided to proceed with a human rights complaint, which was resolved early after the government agreed to create a new supplement aimed at addressing Mr. Shay’s accessibility needs.
Effective April 1, 2017, MSDSI now offers an “alternative hearing assistance supplement” of $100 per month to eligible Deaf clients, in recognition of the costs associated with meeting their accessibility needs.
Update: Effective September 1, 2017, the “alternative hearing assistance supplement” is available to Deaf children in low-income families receiving any level of MSP premium assistance.
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