Did you know that there were currently 7,151 languages spoken in the world today? But while we tend to celebrate language diversity, we often forget about its twin need: language access.
Not everybody speaks the official language of the country or region where they live. Individuals with limited English proficiency in the US, for example, may find it difficult to access healthcare or other human services due to language barriers.
In the US, all individuals have a right to language access when utilizing public services or undergoing legal proceedings. In fact, language access is federally protected under Title VI to ensure equity for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) speakers.
Let’s discuss the importance of language access for LEP individuals and why all organizations need a Language Access Plan ASAP.
Language Access is a Human Right
According to official 2020 estimates, 8.3% of the U.S. population are LEP speakers. Yet, as you can see in the map above, some regions in the US have significantly higher levels of LEP – reaching over 30% for several counties in California, Texas and Florida.
Every state and county has its own language access approaches, depending on local laws and their constituents’ language requirements. The state of New York, for example, passed an order in 2022 that requires public agencies to provide vital documents into the top 12 most commonly spoken languages by LEP New Yorkers.
New York isn’t the only place where government agencies are enacting new language access plans. Last month, both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced new initiatives and partnerships to increase language access.
Impacted Public Organizations
Robust language access plans will likely become the norm as more states pass regulations. Some public organizations that may be required to improve language access include:
- Government agencies
- Legal court proceedings (including child welfare and domestic violence cases)
- Other human and city services
While language access is most often discussed in the context of government agencies, businesses can benefit significantly by providing access in the languages of your target markets – and in doing so, deepening relationships with customers and elevating your brand.
Why Language Access is Critical
Language access is essential for organizations and LEP individuals for a variety of reasons – here’s why.
1. Safeguard Safety, Privacy and Civil Protections
To start, language access protects individuals from danger and harm. Imagine the worst-case scenario of a child abuse or domestic violence case. It’s not uncommon for victims to require language access, and in absence of a professional interpreter, they might not be able to get the help they need. In other cases, a child or family member may be tapped to play this essential role – which can be dangerous and emotionally painful to all parties.
2. Reduce Overall Business Liability
In addition to safety, the lack of strategy around translation and language access can lead to unnecessary business liability. Take for example the immense cost and loss of business reputation when marketing slogans or signage are improperly translated. One famous case is HSBC Bank’s “Assume nothing” slogan, which was rendered as “Do nothing” in some languages. This botched translation cost HSBC Bank a whopping $10 million in global rebranding!
A slogan mistranslation may seem innocuous to LEP speakers, but other business areas could unintentionally cause harm. For instance, a restaurant menu that mistakenly translates ingredients or warnings may accidentally trigger an allergic reaction for an LEP speaker.
3. Ensure the Accuracy of Testimonies, Medical Symptoms and More
Sometimes accuracy is extraordinarily important. In the case of legal testimony, explanation of medical symptoms, public health concerns, public service applications or other key areas, poor accuracy can have devastating results.
For example, hospital patients require a clear understanding of their discharge paperwork. Often these info sheets include important information about the patient’s health status, instructions for at-home treatments and medications, and red flags to seek follow-up care. Without the proper translation, key medical directives may be confusing or misinterpreted by LEP patients.
4. Reduce Confusion, Misunderstandings and Delays in Proceedings
Communication is a two-way street, and language access is also designed to help LEP speakers understand what’s happening around them. Without a professional linguist to handle a live interpretation of court proceedings, for example, an individual may be confused about what’s happening and why.
In turn, this leads to misunderstandings and missed information that may be vital for the case and the well-being of the individual. In addition, it can lead to costly delays in paperwork or proceedings.
5. Boost Equity and Quality of Care for Human Services
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), LEP individuals are less likely to get routine check-ups and receive needed health care due to language barriers.
This is likely also true for other public service areas and legal proceedings. For example, an LEP head of household may be reluctant to wade through the paperwork to secure affordable housing for their family, knowing that they’ll face language obstacles when documents are not translated into their native language.
By building a comprehensive Language Access Plan, you boost the equity and quality of care for public services, allowing individuals to get the help they need without any obstacles.
6. Comply with Federal Title VI Requirements and State Laws
Finally, your agency, school, hospital, courthouse or other organization may be legally obligated to provide language access. Language access is a part of federal Title VI protections and may also be regulated at the state or county level.
A Language Access Plan isn’t just beneficial to LEP individuals, but it’s also legally mandatory to stay compliant. For instance, most states require vital document translation for LEP individuals, as well as live phone interpretation for key services.
Fulfill Your Language Access Plan With Multilingual Connections
As you build your own Language Access Plan, you’ll need the right language solution partner. At Multilingual Connections, we have experts in 75+ languages who understand language access best practices and can masterfully translate vital documents (notices, signage, websites, etc.) and/or handle live phone interpretation for public services.
Get in touch with our team today to learn how we power language access for agencies and businesses nationwide.
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