Are you developing a language access plan? Here’s how you can get started with community and language assessments
A language access plan is a must-have for many organizations: healthcare providers, public agencies, legal firms, the list goes on and on.
In recent years, lawmakers and the general public alike have grown increasingly aware about the importance of language access. The turn of the 21st century also marked an important turn in advocacy for language access: Executive Order 13166, signed in August 2000, required federal agencies to develop a plan to ensure that individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) could receive “meaningful access” to their services.
Since then, language access bills and advocacy efforts have sprung up all across the nation. Take for instance the recently launched Office of Language Access in the state of New York, which is overseeing the enforcement of the state’s new language access policy. Meanwhile, a similar bill passed the New Jersey state senate in March 2023.
Given our nation’s status as one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, it’s no surprise that language access has become an important part of our cultural dialogue. Of course, talking about language access isn’t enough — in order to take meaningful action toward progress, it’s important for agencies to take a thoughtful, principled approach to devising a language access plan.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to language access — as such, each organization will need to take different steps toward providing adequate language access services. And that’s where the language access plan comes in. By taking the time to research your community’s linguistic needs and examine your organization’s services, you can create an actionable language access plan.
If you’re looking to build an effective and equitable language access plan, this blog post can serve as a launching point for you to begin creating that plan. Here, we’ll explore how to get started with developing a language access plan and highlight some of the essential steps you need to take.
One of the first steps toward creating a meaningful language access plan is identifying the languages that are particularly prevalent in your community. Pre-assessment research allows you to determine which languages have the most demand — that is, what languages are most frequently spoken among populations with LEP?
You can begin conducting research by looking through data from the U.S. Census Bureau, such as the annual American Community Survey. Not only does this data allow you to identify widely spoken languages in your community, but it also allows you to identify which languages are most widely spoken among groups that tend to have low levels of English proficiency.
By doing this research, you’ll have a better understanding of the linguistic diversity of the community and the types of services that individuals with LEP need.
Once you’ve identified a set of languages that are in high demand, it’s important to critically analyze your organization’s services and pain points that individuals with LEP might face when attempting to access these services. While some of this work can be done internally, it’s important to seek out the perspective of the community you’re serving, to get an external point-of-view.
One option for identifying community needs is to conduct this community research in-house, hosting surveys, focus groups, and doing other data analysis. Many federal and state programs offer funding for such community research, so a good first step is to look for grants that your organization is eligible for and apply for them.
Another step is to work with community-based organizations or consulting firms. In many cases, seeking out help from these organizations may be a more straightforward approach to sussing out the community’s needs.
Community-based organizations are likely to be quite tuned in to the needs of your consumers, while consultative organizations that specialize in language access or diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) can provide particularly helpful guidance on developing effective plans. Additionally, language service providers can also provide valuable insights and support in developing a comprehensive language access plan.
Frequency of Contact with Services
In addition to getting to know your community, it’s also essential to consider how members of the community interact with your organization and use your services.
It’s a good first step to identify all of your organization’s vital documents. You’ll likely need to commission translations of these documents into the languages you identified in the previous steps, so having a running list of these documents is a good first step. Next, it’s important to think critically about how people in your community use your services. Moreover, ask your team how frequently do individuals with LEP interact with your agency or organization — government agencies in particular will also want to consider how many individuals with LEP are eligible for their services.
In conjunction with the information gathered and analyzed in the previous steps, this step will allow you to prioritize certain aspects and goals in your language access plan. For example, an agency that frequently works face-to-face with LEP individuals will want to prioritize hiring bilingual staff and contracting interpreters, while organizations that do not have many walk-in clients might focus more on written communications first.
These three steps don’t make a language access plan all on their own — but they do provide you with a strong foundation for one. By researching the linguistic demographics of the community that you serve and analyzing your organization’s services, you’ll be well-prepared to begin developing a methodical and thoughtful language access plan. In short, here are some steps to conducting the research that underlies a successful language access plan:
- Pre-assessment research: By identifying nearby populations with LEP and the languages they speak, you can get a better sense of what languages will play a major role in your language access plan.
- Community needs: Conducting on-the-ground research such as surveys and focus groups will allow you to better understand the community’s needs from an external perspective.
- Frequency of contact with services: Understanding how communities with LEP actually use your services and interact with your organization will give you a better sense of which measures to prioritize in your language access plan.
Building a language access plan can be a challenging process, but it’s essential for any organization that serves diverse communities. If you need help getting started with your language access plan, Avantpage is happy to help provide consulting, translation, and interpreting services to agencies and organizations across the country. Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040 for more information about our services.