“What the DC Language Access Act means to me” by Brandie Grant

  As a business student interested in working internationally, I feel it is important to recognize and be open-minded with global barriers such as language. I imagine myself submerged in different cultures overseas and how intimidating it can be when you are equally as competent as those around you but segregated due to language. Here in the capital of our nation I find that it’s important that we cater to the six largely represented languages (besides English) and future languages that may arise as well.  As the United States becomes a larger melting pot it is crucial for it to become the norm that all states equally distribute government services to those who have limited English proficiency.

In my recent personal events, my grandmother from Honduras sought financial aid in reconciling taxes and funds. Although she is able to speak English as a second language she was taken advantage of due to difficulty understanding and translating the terminology and had been led to sign off checks that her financial adviser pocketed for herself. Fortunately, my grandmother had the aid of her children and those resources provided the chance to correct this injustice. But then I thought to myself: what about those who don’t have those resources? Who will be there to fight for their rights? The Language Access Act is a stepping-stone to help prevent future cases such as this. On April 21, 2004 this act was implemented and it is in our hands to encourage its continual support and growth.

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“OLA, Language Access and One Intern” by Lucia Chile

I first heard of Language Access when a friend recommended me to the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs to fulfill a volunteer assignment for an anthropology class. As a Culture & Politics major, I had spent most of my undergraduate career learning about international affairs, foreign policy and African Studies. I had a limited interest in public policy and no idea about how the D.C. local government was run, despite having lived next door to the nation’s capital for most of my life. Honestly, I had no clue what Language Access was about and only a vague idea about what I was getting myself into when I started work.

I quickly learned and grew to appreciate all that is Language Access. Because of a grueling summer doing a comprehensive and thorough literature review on the subject, I can, even now, summarize the origin and development of the Language Access Program. I can tell you that this program is not unique to Washington, D.C. but cities all over the US are implementing it with success. However, I would be lying if I were to tell you that this entire concept is anything but a work in progress. It’s new, it’s innovative and it’s still in its beginning stages.

I was thrust into this interesting environment as I helped to identify and promote best practices for D.C. government agencies. I got a first-hand look at local government as us interns roamed all over the city heading from agency to agency. We interviewed everyone from directors to employees to everyday citizens. Through delicacy and difficulty, we learned the obstacles and frustrations that non-native English speakers experienced while dealing with the rigorous bureaucratic system. As we all know, government forms are confusing and time-consuming even for educated, native English speakers. The Language Access Act of 2004 requires all D.C. government agencies to provide non-native speakers with all forms and publications in the six recognized languages: Spanish, French, Amharic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean. By readily providing information in these languages, the D.C. government is aiding thousands of people in fulfilling their legal requirements and helping them to access programs that are critical to their well-being. This simple concept is constantly foiled by lack of resources and a lack of awareness. It would be too easy and a bit unfair to blame agencies entirely. The problem lies in the absence of dialogue about Language Access in all sectors. OLA along with other actors has worked tirelessly to promote the Language Access Act. It is slowly changing practices in agencies and reshaping the relationship between citizen and agency.

Unfortunately, my part in the campaign to raise awareness and inform people about the resources available to them was short-lived. The experience and knowledge I took from it, however, was rewarding. I saw a lot of grassroots, on-the-street work done to implement policy, something that not many students can experience. I gained a deeper understanding and interest in local government and public policy. I am now a firm supporter of the Language Access Act and the people who develop it. The simple fact that people don’t speak English or don’t speak English well cannot and should not stop tax-paying citizens from having a successful interaction at any government agency. Thankfully, Washington D.C. has the Language Access Act that can only continue to expand and grow in awareness and utility.