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Over the last half-century there has been a massive arrival of immigrants to the United States. Approximately one in four children under 18 now have at least one foreign-born parent. The high levels of immigration in urban areas with declining population levels, represent an opportunity for growth and stability. Considering this, it is important to understand the legal responsibilities to accommodate Limited English Proficiency (LEP) populations. According to census data, over 60 million American residents speak a language other than English at home. Language barriers can make it harder for LEP individuals to access job opportunities or services at public offices. Municipalities are required under federal law to take steps to break down these barriers, by the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it applies to LEP communities. Its implementing regulations, prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance.
The importance behind developing an implementation plan to address the identified needs of the LEP populations, serves as guidance on how staff can and should provide services to limit the language barriers faced by LEP populations.
With a plan in place staff can effectively determine if language access is required and a proper process about how to provide language services. Additionally, having a plan in place is critical in gathering data to further service LEP individuals. Effective communication is critical to ensuring understanding, empowering individuals and providing high quality services.
In order to have an actual plan, there has to be previous research providing information about the needs of current and prospective consumers whose preferred spoken and written language is a language other than English. By having census information that is up to date and understanding the communities serviced, the staff can plan the ways in which they will serve limited English Speaking populations.
Once we have a good idea about the communities we service we can determine the types of services the organization will provide, such as translation; over the phone interpreting or face to face interpreting. Also, how does the organization let its customers, beneficiaries, and patients know about the availability of services? Do they include taglines and signage in different languages?
Any organization receiving federal funds, which serve LEP individuals should develop a language access plan otherwise the results can include lower customer satisfaction; liability related to poor health outcomes; and violation of Federal laws. Providing high quality language services is becoming a key element in servicing patients and customers but it can also be a smart choice. Consumers that are provided with choices in their own languages are more likely to return, they have higher brand loyalty and are more willing to put in a good word with their acquaintances which are likely also LEP consumers.
What is your language access plan?