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New Report Shows Glaring Gaps in NY's Language Access


On August 5, the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road NY (MRNY) released findings from a several months-long initiative monitoring the provision of language services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) New Yorkers. The results are stark: there are glaring gaps in language services in New York State, showing the significant failure of government agencies to provide language services needed to access critical state benefits.

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. Although communities and advocates applauded Governor Cuomo for taking this important step, the findings of the report, Language Access in New York State: A Snapshot from a Community Perspective, show 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. One of the main reasons for the low compliance rate, the report finds, is that according to the state, the Executive Order does not extend to county-run agencies, even if those agencies administer state benefits. For the Governor’s order to have any real impact on the lives of LEP individuals, the state will have to address the problems with existing services, and especially the gaps in services at the county level.  

CPD and MRNY worked in partnership with several local organizations to carry out the research for the report, including 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.