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Campaign Updates

08/5/2013

Coalition Report Shows Persistent Problems With Language Access In Government Agencies Across New York State

Today a coalition of community groups from across New York State released the findings of their several months-long initiative to monitor the provision of language services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) New Yorkers in government agencies. In 2011, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 26, which requires state agencies with direct public contact to translate vital documents into the top six languages spoken by LEP individuals in New York State, provide interpretation services for all New Yorkers in their primary languages, develop a language access plan and designate a language access coordinator.

New York, NY – August 5, 2013 – New York, NY – Today a coalition of community groups from across New York State released the findings of their several months-long initiative to monitor the provision of language services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) New Yorkers in government agencies. In 2011, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 26, which requires state agencies with direct public contact to translate vital documents into the top six languages spoken by LEP individuals in New York State, provide interpretation services for all New Yorkers in their primary languages, develop a language access plan and designate a language access coordinator. However, the Executive Order does not, according to the state, extend to county-run agencies, even if those agencies administer state benefits. The result, according to the report, entitled Language Access in New York State: A Snapshot from a Community Perspective, is that in the majority of cases New Yorkers across all regions are still unable to access language services agencies that administer state benefits and programs. In Central New York, for example, Spanish speakers who requested written language assistance received it only 45% of the time, and in Buffalo that rate dropped to a meager 11%. The report documents similar problems with oral language assistance, with only 45% of research participants receiving oral assistance in their interactions with state agencies.

The report is the result of a collaboration between the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Make the Road NY (MRNY), the Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities (CEMHD) at the University of Albany SUNY, Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters (MAMI) in Central New York and the International Institute of Buffalo. Researchers relied on surveys, interviews, on-site visits to agencies, and website reviews. Agencies monitored included the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Department of Labor (DOH), Workers Compensation Board (WCB) and Division of State Police (DSP) and their county-run branches or offices. Findings show disparities in the quality of services across agencies, with successful language assistance secured in 61% of interactions with the DOL, 55% of interactions with OTDA, and just 32% of interactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Individuals who did manage to secure translation and interpretation service reported that their interactions with agencies were helpful and positive.  “We found that, across the board, when people were able to get access to translation and interpretation, those services were of high quality,” said Nisha Agarwal, Deputy Director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “The problem is that in the majority of cases, the agencies are still not actually providing people with that assistance.”

The report highlights the important role that state agencies play in the lives of LEP families. “The ability to obtain a driver’s license, sign up for food stamps, receive unemployment insurance, obtain child support – these are crucial services that have a big impact on the health and well-being of individuals and communities,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York. “We need to make sure that language barriers aren’t blocking some groups of people from interacting effectively with the agencies that administer critical state programs.”

The report recommends several steps that the State should take to improve language access, including ramping up training and technical assistance to frontline agency staff, developing partnerships with advocacy organizations that have expertise in language access, and issuing guidelines for Language Access Coordinators on how to conduct annual assessments of services.

For a copy of the report, please visit CPD’s website or contact: Nisha Agarwal at nagarwal@populardemocracy.org.