Government services should be accessible and inclusive for all. While legislation is in place to improve equity, limited-English speakers and Deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) individuals still face barriers to adequate experiences.
The Current State of Language Access for Government Services
According to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all organizations that receive federal funding or assistance must "take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by limited-English proficient persons." In other words, all government organizations — whether they offer city services, education, housing, healthcare, or legal assistance — must accommodate limited-English proficient (LEP) and Deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) individuals and provide language access services like document translation and interpretation. Failure to comply would result in a violation of Title VI.
The issue, though, is that Title VI only stipulates "reasonable steps," which could limit services for individuals. For example, suppose an individual who speaks Swahili has a court date, and the courthouse can't find a Swahili interpreter in time. They took "reasonable steps" to find someone but ended up hiring someone just learning Swahili to make ends meet. Or maybe they got a family member to step up as an interpreter despite their lack of training.
Neither solution provides the individual with the language access they need. That's why it's crucial to develop a comprehensive language access plan and invest in quality, customizable language access solutions with both on-demand and scheduled interpretation, as well as document translation.
Benefits of Quality Language Access for Government Services
There's no doubt about the need for language services for government services, but what are the benefits of investing in quality language access solutions? Of course, there's the benefit of increased compliance with Title VI and other legislation (such as ADA, HIPAA, and CMS). But beyond that, there are several other benefits, both for the government organization and the community it serves.
Better Care and More Equity
Even though government services are available to everyone, the language barrier can deter individuals from seeking assistance. For example, a Deaf individual might try to start the process of applying for affordable housing but then quit due to the confusing terminology and limited language resources. Or they might not even be aware of the language services available and avoid the confusing paperwork altogether.
The result is unequal access to government services, with a significant population receiving mediocre services — or none at all.
Comprehensive language solutions can help provide more equitable services, from translated web pages and forms to on-demand interpreters for meetings and phone calls. That way, when someone inquires about government services, they receive adequate language support from the start, no matter what language they speak.
Ensure Privacy and Safety with Qualified Language Support
One common language access solution is to rely on family members to interpret. This is never an ideal situation since the family members are usually not certified interpreters, and they might make mistakes. But more than that, there's a conflict of interest that arises.
Many situations require the limited-English speaker's personal information or testimony, and having someone else step in and explain that can be misleading. Especially in sensitive domestic and healthcare situations, it's vital that individual speaks for themselves without worrying about their safety.
That's where interpreters come in. Certified linguists understand how to manage sensitive conversations and ensure an individual's privacy while providing accurate interpretations. With on-demand interpretation solutions, there's never a need to rely on family members or friends, which ensures the utmost privacy and safety for each individual.
Reduce Misunderstandings That Lead to Delays
Many limited-English speakers know enough English to get by, meaning they may try to manage things on their own if an interpreter isn't available. However, conversational English doesn't include legal terminology. Even if a limited-English speaking individual seems to understand what's happening and agrees to things, they might not fully comprehend the situation.
This confusion can then lead to misunderstandings and incorrect information being relayed to different government facilities, which results in delays.
Put simply, there should never be a situation where someone feels the need to handle the proceedings on their own. They should have support at every step of the way, whether that's with forms in their native language or certified linguists ready to interpret every phone call and meeting.
Make Quality Language Solutions a Part of Your Language Access Plan
Does your language access plan cover only "reasonable steps?" If so, it's time to build a much more comprehensive plan — one that includes custom solutions for any situation.
Languages Services Trusted by the U.S. Federal Government