<![CDATA[DC Language Access Coalition - Language Access Blog]]>Sun, 08 Jul 2012 22:18:57 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[New American Media:  D.C. Language Law Breaks New Ground—But Lacks Teeth]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2012 08:37:22 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/06/new-american-media-dc-language-law-breaks-new-groundbut-lacks-teeth.htmlBy Archana Pyati
Read original article here

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Mangamana Kao made multiple trips last year to the District of Columbia’s public benefits office to get the medical assistance and food stamps he could rightfully receive as a legal immigrant from Togo. On each visit, he made a simple request that was always –and illegally--denied: He asked for a interpreter who could translate into French, his primary language in Togo.

Kao, 42, felt frustrated during these exchanges with government employees, yet he never understood that D.C. officials were breaking the law until he met a language-access advocate last summer at a Togolese social event. She told him about his rights under the Language Access Act, signed into law by then-Mayor Anthony Williams in 2004. 

“That’s when I realized that when you don’t know your rights, you are being mistreated,” Kao said in an interview. 
Lacks Enforcement of Groundbreaking Law

The advocate Kao met asked him to fill out an anonymous survey so he could share his experience. He was one of 258 people with limited or no English proficiency (LEP/NEP) who responded to the survey. 

The results are published in a new report casting a critical eye on D.C.’s lacks enforcement of its groundbreaking language access law. 

Often called a gateway or sanctuary city for immigrants, the nation’s capital is one of the few cities offering legal protections and substantial benefits to those seeking refuge in the United States.

Access Denied: The Unfulfilled Promise of the D.C. Language Access Act,” co-written by student attorneys at American University’s Immigrant Justice Clinic and advocates from the D.C. Language Access Coalition, faults the District government for falling short of its obligations spelled out in the law.

The D.C. statute requires government agencies to offer language interpretation consistently, such as through bilingual staff or telephone service, translation of vital documents in languages covered by the law, tracking of language needs among people across agencies, and training of frontline employees on offering language access in a culturally competent manner.

The law is one of many local and state statutes enhancing federal legislation prohibiting discrimination in language access, beginning with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (See sidebar to this article.

Kao was among the nearly 60 percent of survey participants who faced obstacles when trying to accessing services in their own language, according to the report. Also, 74 percent encountered problems specifically related to oral interpretation, particularly if they spoke Asian or African languages, or African dialects of French. 

Unequal Services Tested in Eight Languages

The reports says the breakdown in communication usually happens the moment an LEP individual walks up to an agency’s front desk. 

“The majority of the problems come from that first point of contact,” said Jennifer Koduru, a former student attorney who contributed to the report. “It’s not illegal to make an individual wait, but it is illegal if you’re making them wait because of their language needs because it’s not equal service under the law.” 

In addition to surveying community members, the coalition also recruited bilingual volunteers to test access to agencies in eight languages, such as through office visits, phone calls and website reviews. 

After asking for an interpreter, testers often got rude or confrontational responses from agency employees. What’s needed is a change in deeper, prejudicial attitudes towards LEP/NEP.

Language Access Protections, Resources

The District of Columbia’s language access law is one of many local or state laws to enhance federal legislation prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, including discrimination in language access, stemming from the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), “These civil rights protections have become well-established through an Executive Order and various federal regulations. Any recipient of federal funds is required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to programs by LEP individuals. Many states and localities also have enacted additional specific requirements for language services for Limited English Proficiency individuals.

Immigrants and their advocates of any age can find useful information and links to important national resources by downloading NSCLC’s handy, three-page fact sheet titled, “Ten Things You Need to Know About Language Access Advocacy for Seniors.”

immigrants among some employees, addressed through cultural competency training, said Sapna Pandya, executive director of Many Languages, One Voice, the group administering the D.C. Language Access Coalition. 

“Some of them don’t know, some of them don’t care, and some of them are of the opinion that LEP folks shouldn’t be getting access to services anyway,” Pandya stated. 

Monica Palacio, who directs the District government’s language access program, said her two-person office trains between 100 to 200 employees a week, and the demand is growing so much she’s exploring the use of language-access trainings via webinars. “Agencies are requesting the training more proactively as opposed to us having to chase after them,” Palacio asserted. 

Failure to Track Language Needs

The D.C. government does audit its language-access performance annually, assigning each agency a score, based on language testing by an independent service. But the authors of “Access Denied” say these compliance reviews paint a rosier picture than what agencies truly deserve. The yearly reviews rely on self-reporting by each agency and testers hired by the government.

“Every single agency got an above average rating, even ones that we found problems with,” said Koduru. 

As a newcomer to the District, Kao has made the rounds to various offices, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, Public Benefits Office and—now that his family has joined him from Togo--the local school district. Yet there’s no single database tracking his language needs, another systemic flaw identified in “Access Denied” and one acknowledged by city officials.

“Each agency has its own customer management database,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who directs D.C.’s Office of Human Rights, which oversees the city’s compliance with the law. 

“Across 34 agencies [covered by the law], there’s variety in how consistently people do this, but this is vital information.”

The underlying problem with the D.C.’s language access law, advocates say, is that people can’t sue the government if their rights have been violated. 

In 2011, only seven people filed complaints with the Office of Human Rights (OHR), which “doesn’t mean these violations aren’t happening,” said Laura Varela, director of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. 

“My biggest issue with this law is that it has no teeth,” Varela said. “There’s no deterrent effect.” 

Fear of Filing Complaints

Legal Aid housing attorney David Steib said many of his clients are unwilling to file complaints because their main concern is accessing services or getting an issue resolved. 

Undocumented clients may not want to draw attention to their immigration status, which has no bearing on their right to make a complaint. Also, filing complaints requires time off from work to be interviewed by OHR staff, which may lead nowhere, even with the newly proposed appeals process. 

Additionally, complainants can’t recover damages for lost wages, transportation costs or attorney’s fees, so there’s no financial incentive for people to make their voices heard and keep the government accountable. 

“If someone brings a language-access complaint, they’re doing it for the community,” he said. “It’s a very altruistic thing.”

Archana Pyati is a freelance journalist based in Silver Spring, Md. Her work has appeared in theSan Francisco Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, and The Oregonian.

<![CDATA[Democracy in Translation]]>Thu, 31 May 2012 08:09:24 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/05/democracy-in-translation.htmlFrom the Greenlining Institute:

SACRAMENTO – The California Senate took a major step toward involving the 6.9 million Californians who don’t speak English very well in the ballot initiative system today, passing SB 1233 by a vote of 24 to 14, with two abstentions. The bill would require the state to translate ballot initiative materials being circulated for signature-gathering into widely-spoken languages.

“This bill is an important step to protect the rights of all of California’s voters by providing election materials in different languages,” said bill author Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). “By failing to provide language appropriate petitions, thousands of voters have been and continue to be left out of the process of determining which initiatives qualify for the ballot. It is imperative that we provide initiative material in all the languages covered by the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Padilla.
Under the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discrimination in voting, California is required to translate voting materials such as a sample ballots and voter information pamphlets into nine languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer, and Thai. However, ballot initiative and referendum petitions circulated in hopes of qualifying for the ballot are not covered by current law, although the initiative process has become increasingly important in setting policy in California.

The Greenlining Institute brought the issue to Senator Padilla earlier this year, after completing a statewide listening tour to hear from California voters about their experiences with the initiative process. “We kept hearing about how voters were being misled and excluded by the initiative process because petitions are only available in English,” said Michelle Romero, Greenlining’s Our Democracy program manager. “By passing SB 1233, we can uphold the rights of millions of citizens to participate in our democracy and help determine what goes on the ballot.”

Endorsers of SB 1233 include:

Greenlining Institute (Sponsor)
American GI Forum of California
Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action
California Immigrant Policy Center
California Common Cause
California Church IMPACT
Council of Asian American Business Associations of California
El Concilio of San Mateo County
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Empower San Diego
First AME Church of South Los Angeles & FAME Corporations
Hmong American Political Association
Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund
Mission Language & Vocational School
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
National Council of La Raza and its California Affiliate Network

Having passed the Senate, SB 1233 now goes to the Assembly.
<![CDATA[Mary’s Center and Green Door Partner to Improve Access to Integrated Care for Psychiatric Patients]]>Wed, 30 May 2012 11:05:34 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/05/marys-center-and-green-door-partner-to-improve-access-to-integrated-care-for-psychiatric-patients.htmlMary’s Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center with over 24 years of experience serving the DC metropolitan area, and Green Door, the second-largest community mental health service provider in the District of Columbia, are pleased to announce a unique partnership to improve access to long-term care for psychiatric patients in the District of Columbia.

Effective May 31, 2012, Mary’s Center will assume responsibility for the operation of Green Door’s psychiatric clinic in the Georgia Ave-Petworth neighborhood of Northwest DC. With this partnership, Mary’s Center aims to increase access to a full range of psychiatric services while continuing to provide the quality of care for which Green Door has been known since 1976. Together, Mary’s Center and Green Door will continue to proactively address the growing comprehensive healthcare needs of our community.
Mary’s Center is a premier provider of primary health care at several locations in the District and Maryland. Green Door is one of the most successful programs for people with mental illness in the District of Columbia. Both agencies are certified by the DC Department of Mental Health to provide mental health services.

“The integration of primary health and mental health is a goal of the District’s Department of Mental Health,” said Steve Baron, Director of the DC Department of Mental Health. “The new arrangement between Mary’s Center and Green Door will enhance improved care of District residents served by both agencies.”

Through this partnership, Green Door clients will also benefit from integrated primary health care services provided by Mary’s Center – a known need of psychiatric patients. “I am thrilled at this opportunity for better overall health care for our clients,” stated Tim Sawina, President and CEO of Green Door. “People with mental illness have a life expectancy up to 25 years less than their peers. That is unacceptable and we can do better.”  Studies show that comprehensive care leads to better overall health outcomes for clients who struggle with mental illness.

Maria Gomez, President and CEO of Mary’s Center, said: “This partnership is a model for the city – strong and seamless medical homes are vital to increasing the quality of life of every District resident including those with private, self-pay, Medicaid and Medicare insurance.”

Green Door will continue to provide its 1,800 clients with a complete array of other mental health services including community support, counseling, day programs, educational support, employment assistance and housing.

Mary’s Center serves more than 24,000 participants at two locations in the District of Columbia and two in Maryland.  The Mary’s Center social change model aims to help people move up the economic ladder by keeping them healthy throughout their life cycle, supporting them in their own communities, and offering educational opportunities for both parents and children.


Mary’s Center, founded in 1988, is a federally qualified health center that provides health care, family literacy and social services to 24,000 individuals whose needs too often go unmet by the public and private systems. Mary’s Center uses a holistic, multipronged approach to help each participant access individualized services that set them on the path toward good health, stable families, and economic independence.  The Center offers high-quality, professional care in a safe and trusting environment to residents from the entire DC metropolitan region, including individuals from over 90 countries. www.maryscenter.org.
Green Door was founded in 1976 as a community program that prepares people with severe and persistent mental illness to work and live independently.  Each year, Green Door helps over 1,800 District of Columbia residents who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and other mental illnesses.  Green Door services maximize an individual’s ability to achieve the highest level of personal success and independence.  Green Door clients come from every ward in DC and some join us from hospitals, homeless shelters or the criminal justice system. www.greendoor.org
<![CDATA[Health: Hospital interpreters can shorten length of hospital stays]]>Fri, 25 May 2012 15:39:53 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/05/health-hospital-interpreters-can-shorten-length-of-hospital-stays.htmlA new study reveals that interpretation for patients can lessen the time they spend in hospitals, ultimately lessening provider and patient costs. Read the Reuters article here.]]><![CDATA[Report on language access on WFDC TV]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2012 09:47:17 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/04/report-on-language-access-on-wfdc-tv.htmlCoverage of Access Denied: The Unfulfilled Promise of the DC Language Access Act 
<![CDATA[Greetings from the Future]]>Wed, 14 Mar 2012 08:55:38 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/03/greetings-from-the-future.htmlWill technology completely eliminate language barriers in the future? ]]><![CDATA[Legal Access Victory]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2012 09:20:31 -0800http://www.dclanguageaccess.org/3/post/2012/02/legal-access-victory.htmlThe Legal Aid Society of DC, a member of the DC Language Access Coalition, recently obtained a victory under the DC Language Access Act of 2004. The Office of Human Rights ruled in favor or Legal Aid's client, who was repeatedly denied interpretation and translation services by the DC Child Support and Services Division. Congratulations to all who have worked to uphold language access!

Language Access Victory for Legal Aid Client in English

 Victoria de Acceso Lingüístico para Cliente de La Sociedad de Asistencia Legal
Translation by Raquel Aguirre