Every day, organizations encounter customers, patients, clients, and litigants who are limited English proficient (LEP), who speak and read little or no English. Being able to communicate with LEP people and providing them with effective language assistance are absolutely essential, and are often required by law. Indeed, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stated, “With 80 percent of hospitals encountering LEP individuals frequently, there is an increasing demand for effective language access services.”
There are many federal laws with language assistance and translation requirements. The federal law that requires federally funded and assisted health care providers, courts, non-profits, states, counties, cities, and school districts to provide effective and meaningful language assistance is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 United States Code §§ 2000d – 2000d-7.
Understanding how to provide federally required language assistance, in what languages, and to which communities can be a daunting task. It is axiomatic that the “languages spoken by … LEP individuals with whom the agency has contact determine the languages accommodated by [the] agency,” is a good place to begin evaluating language assistance needs. However, each federally funded agency and organization has its own requirements beyond language identification to inform providing the legally mandated “meaningful access” to federally funded “programs, activities, and services.”