After postponing our annual DCLAC Retreat due to the Great (Non-) Blizzard of February 2016, our members came together on a recent Saturday to discuss our work and shape our strategic plan for the next year. Our warm-up activity led to a vigorous discussion of numerous barriers in areas such as Education, Healthcare, Public Benefits, Survivor Services, Driver's Licenses, and Housing. This sparked stories of numerous instances of language injustice that our members have witnessed - of English Language Learner (ELL) students being isolated from their peers without appropriate support or resources; Limited-English Proficient and Non-English Proficient (LEP and NEP) community members lacking access to health insurance due to language barriers; patients not receiving in-language information about their health and misunderstanding medication instructions given only in English; government agency staff left without language access training and providing poor customer service; survivors of domestic violence being shuffled though the system while their abuser “interprets” for them; Limited Purpose Driver's License applicants waiting five months for an appointment; and residents who have housing vouchers being threatened with deportation. While we have made incredible progress in the last year alone, there is clearly a long way to go.
Threading through all of these seemingly distinct problems are both systemic breakdowns of the institutions that are meant to serve all our residents and a lack of familiarity with these complex systems, which act to compound barriers. These wide-ranging issues and systemic barriers have the impact of inhibiting LEP and NEP community members’ access to services, programs, and benefits, while degrading dignity and marginalizing entire groups of people.
Recognizing these widespread issues, we turned to envisioning how a DC with equity for LEP and NEP folks should look, and created One-Year and Ten-Year visions for a truly #multilingual city. Our top short-term priorities include: growing our cadre of multilingual organizers; ensuring that government agencies’ front-line staff are proficient in the Language Access Act (LAA) and working with interpreters; having ELL students graduate prepared and supported; defining charter schools as “covered entities” in the LAA to make sure they provide appropriate ELL services and support; and making the LAA enforceable by adding fines for agencies that break the law.
In order to make these goals a reality, we have to work within the complex political and power structures at play in DC. To better understand how these forces function and influence our work, we discussed types of power, the people and organizations that hold power in DC, and how they work to support, oppose, or do not engage in a given issue. We will continue to use this tool to better understand and confront the forces working against language justice in our community, starting with a power-mapping workshop from MLOV’s standout Education Organizer, Ray Jose at our April 26th DCLAC meeting!
Powered by a taco bar, homemade vegan cookies, and delicious dates, we continued on to unpack the data from our recent internal survey, revealing the incredible array of skills that our members have to contribute – from speaking Amharic to interpreting Vietnamese to videography to leading cultural competency trainings, our members do it all! Coupling these assets with the goals and strategies we set, we will continue our work to make #multilingualdc a reality – join us, and contribute to our work here!
DCLAC members Sylvie Bello (L) and Sapna Pandya (R) with Joey Trimboli in Councilmember Bonds' office.
Our Advocacy Committee has been hard at work meeting with our District's lawmakers and advocating for language justice! This week our members met with staff from Councilmembers Bonds and Orange's offices to highlight the importance of language access for our immigrant communities and our community as a whole. We discussed the goals we aim to achieve with the Language Access for Education Amendment of 2015, and the language access issues faced by these communities on a daily basis, as well as the opportunities that the District misses out on by not fully including these community members.
Councilmember Bonds' staff was excited to learn that we have modeled parts of our Language Access amendment on the Ban the Box legislation, which she championed, and we look forward to her support in improving language access across all of our communities in DC!
DCLAC members David Steib and Mayra Ibarra outside Councilmember Orange's office.
As we meet with Councilmembers, we are emphasizing our support for substantive improvements in language access, as we have proposed in the Language Access for Education Amendment of 2015. Below is our position statement on what must be included in the amendment in order to effect meaningful change.
Position Statement on
The DC Language Access for Education Act of 2015
This document outlines DCLAC’s talking points with regard to the Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015. This document is consistent with DCLAC’s proposal regarding legislative modifications but also provides additional guidance for Coalition members regarding the reasoning in support of our positions and also proposals on which we will intentionally express “no opposition” without adopting those proposals on our own.
Goal 1: Increase transparency of complaint and corrective action process
Goal 2: Create enforcement mechanisms – hold agencies that violate the Language Access Act accountable in a timely manner and provide incentives for agencies to comply with the Act
-$4000 for agencies between size [to be determined] and [to be determined].
-$6000 for agencies size [to be determined] and larger.
Goal 3: Make the person whose rights were violated “whole” – compensate for the damage incurred by the language access violation
Goal 4: Provide incentives for people to file complaints when their rights are violated
Goal 5: Provide greater resources for English Language Learner students and families and improve enforcement of Language Access requirements in DC Public Schools and DC Public Charter Schools
In addition, DCLAC is not opposed to the following proposal(s) we understand have been advanced by others:
More than 70 community members packed a hearing room in the Wilson Building last Wednesday and waited through hours of testimony for their turn to tell DC City Council their stories. The crowd represented a huge range of professions, backgrounds, languages, and ages – from Spanish-speaking attorneys, to Vietnamese-speaking student leaders, to French-speaking and Oromo-speaking community organizers. School principals waited alongside ESL students, and Executive Directors sat in line beside low-income housing residents, all with the shared goal of conveying the importance of language access to not only each of them, but to DC as a whole.
Councilmembers serving on the Committee on the Judiciary, Committee on Education, and Committee of the Whole listened to testimony documenting the persistent barriers faced by community members who speak little or no English. Despite a groundbreaking bill co-authored by the DC Language Access Coalition and enacted into law 11 years ago, a pattern of flagrant violations of the rights enshrined in that law persist in DC, as evidenced by the multitude of experiences shared at the hearing. The Language Access in Education Act of 2015 aims to reduce those violations and significantly improve the state of language access in the District.
Students from SMART, or Student Multiethnic Action Research Team, shared some of the formidable barriers they faced when entering the DC school system. One SMART member lacked access to even basic information at school:
“During my first two years in high school I could not understand what the lunch staff were asking me. Sometimes I wouldn’t get lunch because I wouldn’t know how to ask for it.” -Mario, SMART Member
Other SMART members detailed the frustration of lacking support systems, being unable to understand their teachers, counselors, nurses, and school administrators, and the educational setbacks they experienced as a result.
Parents testified about barriers that prevent them from being involved in their children’s education. One mother described the ineffectiveness and miscommunications that resulted from her son’s school forcing her student to interpret communication between herself and her son's teachers. She had to simply leave one parent-teacher conference because her son did not know how to interpret what was being said
“I was not able to ask questions as [my son] Jiovani did not know how to translate what he was saying, so we had to leave”. -Maria, ELL parent
Service providers testified about the loss of benefits, time, and dignity that their clients routinely experience at DC agencies such as the Department of Human Services (DHS) when they have to wait long periods of time to be served, are treated rudely, or are outright denied services. While these actions are clearly illegal under the current law, the only enforcement mechanisms available now have proven ineffective. Despite the diligent work of many within the Office of Human Rights (OHR) - which is tasked with investigating and issuing corrective actions to agencies found to be breaking the law - multiple agencies simply continue to break the law without real consequence. OHR has issued multiple findings of language access violations to DHS, among other agencies, but these agencies continue to fail to provide interpretation, translated documents, and other vital services.
Elisabeth Hando of the Washington DC French Speaking Community association graciously invited us to give a Know Your Rights presentation at their February 28th meeting. The event was a huge success, with around 15 enthusiastic members in attendance despite the lingering cold and snow.
Je suis fiere de ma langue & mon accent!
"I am proud of my language & my accent!" became the rallying cry of the presentation, with many members showing exuberant love for la Langue Français while learning how to stand up for their rights under the DC Language Access Act and they can ensure these rights are further protected in the District.
We hope to see many of you at our upcoming events! See our "Events and Meetings" page for more details!
If your group or anyone you know would like to learn more about your language access rights, contact Megan Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a training!
Bilingual/multilingual college students and recent graduates:
Build on your policy advocacy, community organizing, and communication skills in a supportive environment! We have two positions currently open - send in your application materials today!
Contact Megan Walker at email@example.com for more information.
Language Access: What does it have to offer?
Coalition members discuss language access rights
This week’s DCLAC meeting answered these questions and many more! Coalition members and community members came together to learn more about the mechanics of our Language Access Act here in the District. These questions affect the work many of us do on a daily basis, and knowing our rights and how to ensure they’re respected is integral to doing our jobs. Several of our knowledgeable members shared information on the Language Access Act, breaking down how it applies to service providers and community members who don’t speak English well, as well as on the processes in place for remedying situations where someone’s rights are denied.
David Steib describing rights to interpretation and translation services under the Language Access Act
David Steib, Language Access Director at Ayuda, presented on the rights provided by the Language Access Act and its applications to government and non-government agencies. Allison Miles-Lee, Senior Supervising Attorney at Bread for the City presented on the process currently in place for filing complaints when Language Access Act violations occur, and Matthew Handley, Director of Litigation at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, presented on the Human Rights Act and its respective process used to file complaints.
Coalition members learning about processes for filing complaints if language access rights are violated
To learn more about the Language Access Act and your language access rights, come to a DCLAC meeting - held the last Tuesday of every month from 10:00AM-12:00PM at 3166 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington, DC - or contact our Coalition Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marking International Translation Day and the close of African Heritage Month, members of the DC Language Access Coalition announced major advancements to strengthen the Language Access Act at a Press Conference September 30th. While the event was organized to mark the creation of a pioneering Walk-Through Protocol for elected officials in the District, several last minute developments were celebrated as well, including the newly published Regulations to the DC Language Access Act and an amendment to the Language Access Act recently introduced by Councilmember Grosso.
Protocol Ensures Language Access During Official Walk-Throughs
The Walk-Through Protocol came about as a result of DCLAC’s advocacy, in partnership with community partners, for this new tool to ensure compliance with the DC Language Access Act. As David Steib, Language Access Director at Ayuda and member of the DCLAC's Legal Committee explained at the Press Conference, "the new Protocol provides guidelines for elected officials who plan to conduct Quick Response Walk-Throughs which would be triggered by a natural disaster or emergency situation or Planned Walk-Throughs in order to improve language access." He went on to explain how the Walk-Through Protocol is the result of a unique and successful community-government collaboration between the DC Language Access Coalition and many government representatives, including staff from the Office of Community Affairs in the Executive Office of the Mayor and from the Office of Human Rights. This Protocol dovetails with the DC Language Access Act of 2004, which requires that all DC government agencies, departments, and programs with public contact provide interpretation into any language spoken by the public.
The DC Mayor, and other elected officials perform walk-throughs for such purposes as to enforce District regulations, to inform the public of new practices, to assess damage, or to conduct community outreach. In response to a reporter's question at the Press Conference today, Sapna Pandya, Executive Director of MLOV and a member of the DCLAC's Executive Committee shared that approximately 16% of DC residents are foreign-born and 1 in 20 are limited-English proficient or no-English proficient. She went on to say, however, "language access is not just for those who are limited English proficient, but also for monolingual English speakers. The intent of language access is to enable better communication between these individuals, so the monolingual English speaker needs language access as much as the immigrant who doesn't speak English as a primary language."
Members of the DC Language Access Coalition reached out to government officials, initiating the development of the Protocol after television coverage of a walk-through in which a language barrier impeded communication between Mayor Gray and an African immigrant store clerk. That walk-through had been organized by the DC Department of Health (DOH) as part of its “K2 Zombie DC” campaign to address the prevalence of synthetic weed purchase and usage among District youth, which has severely harmful effects. This incident highlighted the importance of effective language access, as the language barrier hampered the spread of information about the dangers of this illegal substance, as well as about consequences for shopkeepers who are found in violation of the law.
At least one third of small businesses in the District are either immigrant-owned or immigrant-run, and many of the staff that keep these businesses running do not speak English as a primary language. According to canvassing by Bekele Wolde, a member of the DC Language Access Coalition, in the same area of this incident, the Mayor and the “K2 Zombie DC” team conducted walk-throughs in 6 Ethiopian-owned or run businesses, yet no Amharic interpretation was provided, nor was the education flyer produced by the Department of Health translated into Amharic.
In the months that followed, the Coalition and representatives from the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs, the Office of Human Rights and several other DC agencies worked together in a unique collaboration to address the issue of language access during walk-throughs by elected officials. The resulting Protocol, which will be an internal document used by District government and implemented by the Office of Community Affairs, is a product of this unique collaboration.
"The creation of this Protocol serves as another reminder that when a community member raises their voice and knows their rights, with the help of advocates from the DC Language Access Coalition, big systemic change CAN happen."
Under the new Protocol, the Mayor’s Office on Community Affairs (OCAF) will convene a team to conduct advance canvassing of any neighborhood where a planned walk-through will take place, to determine the need for language resources, and to evaluate the potential for engagement with limited-English proficient residents of the target neighborhood. The protocol aims to ensure optimal language access, encouraging the provision of in-person interpreters where possible, and providing instructions for utilizing telephonic interpretation as a backup. It also requires that officials translate vital documents associated with the planned walk-through (notices, letters, etc...) into identified language(s), and ensure that translations are made available at the same time and in the same way that documents in English are distributed (whether prior to or during the planned walk-through).
DC Language Access Act Regulations Strengthen Language Rights
Regulations to the DC Language Access Act were finalized and published to the Public Register on September 26th. These new ‘Regs’ incorporate many recommendations that the Coalition has been working diligently on submitting to the Office of Human Rights over the past 2 years, in order to strengthen the implementation of the Language Access Act. Some of the new changes, as reflected in the amended Regs include:
· An Appeals Process for Language Access Complaints
· A required Annual Implementation Report on language access for covered entities with major public contact
· A mechanism to document "informal" reporting of language discrimination, to better track instances where language access rights have been denied but a formal complaint is not filed
· Adding several more agencies to the list of covered entities with major public contact, including:
-Department of General Services
-Department of Health Care Finance;
-Department of Small and Local Business Development;
-Department of the Environment;
-Department of Transportation;
-Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services;
-Department on Disability Services;
-DC Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board;
-District of Columbia Public Charter Schools;
-Office of Administrative Hearings;
-Office of the Attorney General-Child Support Services Division;
-Office of the State Superintendent of Education;
-Office of the Tenant Advocate;
-Office of Unified Communications; and
-Office of Zoning
Councilmember Grosso Introduces Amendment to Strengthen the Language Access Act
Councilmember Grosso introduced an amendment to the Language Access Act on September 23rd, which is an incredible development as it represents the first time a Council member has introduced amendments to the Language Access Act since its passage ten years ago. The DC Language Access Coalition has worked closely with Councilmember Grosso’s staff to develop this amendment in response to major language access issues across the District. The major provisions of the amendments are summarized in MLOV's blog:
Read about proposed Amendments!
At the press conference, Sapna Pandya, Executive Director of Many Languages One Voice and member of the Executive Committee of the DC Language Access Coalition discussed the amendment, explaining that hearings will most likely be held after new Councilmembers have been elected and Council returns after its winter recess. The Coalition is requesting the DC community to contact Councilmember Wells (D-Ward 6), Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary where the Language Access Act amendments were introduced, in order to request a hearing on the amendments be scheduled. Councilmember Wells can be reached at (202) 724-8072 or on email@example.com.
Many Languages One Voice administers and coordinates the work of the DC Language Access Coalition, which consists of over 40 immigrant-serving organizations based throughout DC. The Coalition, realizing the importance of full access and participation for the District’s diverse populations, led the effort for the successful passage of the unique DC Language Access Act of 2004. Since then, the Coalition has provided direct consultation to DC government agencies on how to comply with this legislation and continues to advocate for even greater protections for DC residents.
For more information about the DC Language Access Coalition, please email the Coalition's Organizer, Megan Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coalition encourages community members and advocates to come forward and share stories of discrimination based on the failure of DC government to provide language access as required by law.
DC Health Link Enrollment Fair
Reprinted from the DC Health Link: https://dchealthlink.com/node/490
We are excited that DC Health Link, the District’s new online marketplace offering affordable private and public health insurance options to District residents and small businesses, was launched successfully October 1st. This Saturday, November 23, 2013, 10:00 am, we will host a city-wide DC Health Link Information Day and Enrollment Fair at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library located at 901 G Street, NW. The event will enable District residents, small business owners and their employees to conveniently shop, compare and enroll in health insurance plans that best meet their needs and budgets. Trained experts will be on-site to assist with the enrollment process.
The Fair will officially open with a brief program and special remarks. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and other city officials will bring greetings. Local business and civic leaders along with DC sports team personalities will offer encouraging words to residents about the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles and obtaining quality health insurance. The Fair will also feature a variety of activities including enrollment booths, exhibits, information tables, FREE health screenings, live music, Zumba and Yoga sessions, activities for children and more.
To ensure you have all the items needed to enroll in an individual or family health plan, please review the DC Health Link Enrollment Checklist here. To enroll in a small business plan, please review the DC Health Link Small Business Enrollment Checklist here. Enrollment assistance will be available throughout the day. However, if you want to schedule a specific appointment time to meet with a trained and certified In-Person Assister or Insurance Broker, please register here. See you this Saturday!
A big hello to all you language access supporters out there!
My name is Megan Walker, and I’m excited to have joined the DC Language Access Coalition as Coalition Coordinator in August. There’s been a lot going on from day 1, so I jumped in and got to work, but wanted to take a breather now and share what’s been going on with all of you - some of it has been behind the scenes and some of it you may already know about.
First, if you’re reading this, it means our website revitalization was successful! We are excited to have our online presence back, though you might have noticed its location has changed. Sadly, our previous domain name, ‘dclanguageaccess.org’ was bought by another organization, so we added one word to the name and we’re back in business! ‘Dclanguageaccesscoalition.org’ is our new internet home. You’ll notice that despite the change in domain name, our website content is the same - we’re in the process of updating that content so please let us know by email if you have any suggestions: email@example.com.
We have also been putting a lot of time and consideration into our response to an incident in July involving Mayor Gray’s office and various agencies serving the Mayor during a walk-through of a local business, where we suspect a violation of the Language Access Act of 2004 occurred. After initial contact between Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) and the Office of Human Rights (OHR), the Coalition decided to send OHR a letter reiterating MLOV’s request for a meeting with the Mayor to discuss the incident. Representatives from OHR, the Office on Latino Affairs, and the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs attended the most recent DCLAC Executive Committee meeting on September 24th to discuss the situation, inform the Coalition of what has happened internally in their offices, and to propose corrective courses of action to ensure LEP/NEP small business owners’ and employees’ rights to language access services are fulfilled. In response to the meeting with DCLAC, during which advocates voiced concerns about the lack of language access during walk-throughs of small businesses, we are pleased that the Mayor’s office has proposed three actions:
1. To establish a protocol for ensuring language access is provided during walk-throughs of small businesses, convene a meeting between the DC Language Access Coalition and Directors of the DC government agencies involved in walk-throughs and similar community outreach activities.
2. A representative from the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs will visit with the store clerk from the July incident and provide an apology to the clerk and inform him of the steps that are being taken to ensure such future interactions go smoothly for all involved.
3. The Office of Human Rights will take the lead in convening periodic meetings between the Coalition and the agencies involved to ensure accountability and followthrough.
The Coalition is pleased that their requests of the Mayor’s offices have been heard and are being responded to, and are motivated by this advocacy victory. We are currently in discussions regarding these proposals and are working to serve the interests of the LEP community member hurt by denial of access as well as the greater LEP/NEP community. If you would like further information and/or to be involved, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am honored and excited to be working with so many inspiring advocates through the Coalition - here’s to continued partnerships and improving access for all!
Language Access Blog
Local, national and global updates about language access news.