BC man wins important human rights victory for Deaf people in need of welfare

For Immediate Release | BCPIAC

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Christopher Shay has won his human rights complaint against the BC Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, with the Ministry agreeing to make a range of changes to improve accessibility and fairness for people who have communication barriers and need welfare.

Mr. 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 disability.

Mr. Shay, with the assistance of lawyers at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, filed a human rights complaint against MSDSI 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 will be available for interviews on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 9am at the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre at 208-1090 West Pender Street in Vancouver. A sign language interpreter will be present.

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Full Press Release

Welfare process assailed for ‘extreme’ delay

June 23, 2015 | Stefania Seccia | 24 hours

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Unable to find work after taking time off school to pay his student loan bills, Christopher Shay found himself needing social assistance.

He didn’t expect the system assigned to support him would place more barriers in his path.

That’s why Shay, 42, who was born deaf and speaking through his interpreter Alana McKenna, has filed a complaint against the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

Shay was a life skills worker and an educational assistant, and then began studying computer science at Douglas College in 2012. He withdrew two years later as his student loans were high and he wanted to work to pay down some of the debt incurred.

After being unable to find employment, he applied for welfare last September, specifying he had an immediate need of assistance.

In the subsequent five weeks he waited to get $610 a month, lost 20 pounds, faced eviction three times, and “didn’t want to be alive.”

I thought I would become homeless, and maybe die on the street because I didn’t know where I was going to get any money from

“I thought I would become homeless, and maybe die on the street because I didn’t know where I was going to get any money from,” he said. “I felt very angry at the system. I felt very depressed.

“My self-esteem was absolutely diminished and it was a real hit on my dignity.”

In January, Shay started receiving about $906 a month for disability assistance, but only has $65 left for everything beside his BC Hydro bill and rent.

“I know I’m not alone,” he said. “To wait five weeks before receiving any sort of assistance is outrageous when the policy specifically states it’s meant to be within one business day.

“There was no explanation.”

The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed the complaint on behalf of Shay, and the tribunal has agreed to hear his case.

Sarah Khan, Shay’s lawyer, said his case is one of the most extreme ones she’s seen.

“Usually the delays are one to three weeks and five weeks is an extreme delay,” she said. “The policy sounds good on paper; meeting the (immediate need of assistance) within one business day is a great policy, it’s a great service standard to have, but when it’s not being implemented I find it really frustrating that year after year this problem persists.”

In May, the centre filed a complaint with the B.C. ombudsperson on behalf of nine groups over allegations that the government has slashed access to welfare despite claiming enhanced services.

In response, Minister Michelle Stilwell said, “I trust you will understand that we cannot comment as the matter is before the human rights tribunal.”

Deaf man takes B.C. ministry to Human Rights Tribunal over delays in income assistance

June 23, 2015 | Cheryl Chan | The Province
Link to original article

When Christopher Shay applied for income assistance in September, he was at his wit’s end.

Shay, who is deaf, had applied for various jobs since August, a month after taking a hiatus from his computer science program at Douglas College, but failed to find employment.

Worried about paying the rent for his Coquitlam apartment, he applied for income assistance on Sept. 30, specifying “immediate needs,” a request which, according to the ministry’s own service standards, should have been addressed on the same business day.

But it took the 42-year-old five weeks to receive a welfare cheque — an outrageous waiting period, said advocates, for someone who needed help immediately.

“Five weeks is not a reasonable amount of time to be waiting,” Shay told The Province on Tuesday through sign language interpreter Alana McKenna in his lawyer’s office. “I was able to receive income assistance, but what was the point of that? I suffered for five weeks for no reason.”

Shay is now taking MSDSI to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination on the basis of physical disability.

Shay is now taking the provincial Ministry of Social Development to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, alleging discrimination on the basis of physical disability.

Despite knowing he was deaf, “the ministry failed to accommodate me and actually made things worse for me by failing to comply with their own legislation and policy because they did not give me an immediate needs assessment on an urgent basis,” Shay said in the complaint, which was approved by the tribunal on June 4.

Shay said that, unlike hearing people, he is unable to call the welfare office and was dependent on others to call on his behalf or had to visit the office in person to talk to a case worker.

The visits and calls went nowhere, he said. The ministry was supposed to provide an interpreter to help him, but that wasn’t always the case. Often, he had to scribble notes back and forth with the person behind the counter. “It isn’t an effective method of communication.”

Shay admits he made mistakes that could have slowed down his application, such as initially providing the wrong email address and showing up 45 minutes late to an appointment. But the latter was moot, said Shay, because a promised interpreter wasn’t there anyway.

I felt like I was going to lose everything and live on the streets

“They couldn’t serve me anyway,” said Shay. “And they didn’t care. They’re like, ‘Oh well, you’re deaf, so we can’t serve you.’ That’s what it felt like.”

During the five-week wait, Shay received three eviction notices from his landlord. He borrowed money from friends to pay rent and relied on the food bank. He lost 20 pounds and sank into a depression.

“I felt like I was going to lose everything and live on the streets,” recalled Shay. “I felt very ashamed of what was happening. The system itself felt like it didn’t care about my immediate needs. It was a horrible, terrible time.”

Shay didn’t receive his first cheque from the ministry until Nov. 7. He then had to apply to get the funds backdated to October. No explanation was given for the delay.

Lawyer Sarah Khan of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre said Shay’s case is not unique but is “pretty extreme” compared to the usual wait time of one to three weeks.

Khan’s non-profit organization, which advocates for low-income and disadvantaged people, had filed a complaint against the ministry with the B.C. Ombudsperson in 2005 for systemic delays, particularly with the immediate needs assessment. It filed another complaint on behalf of several community organizations last month.

“We’ve heard countless stories over the years,” said Khan. “But we think because (Shay) is deaf and has communication barriers, the delays were more significant for him than (they) would have been for other people.”

In an emailed statement, Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell said she understands Shay’s frustration but cannot comment because the matter is before the human rights tribunal.

chchan@theprovince.com

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