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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Ten years ago this month, the District of Columbia pledged its support to the fast-growing immigrant community by unanimously passing the DC Language Access Act, which aims to ensure all District residents have equal access to government services regardless of their level of English language proficiency. The District was only the fourth local jurisdiction in the nation to codify such a commitment, and after a decade of implementation, the Act has made the District a more welcoming place for its immigration population. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR), advocates and community members reiterated the importance of that commitment at a ten year anniversary celebration this evening, and agreed to continue making progress with guidance from an Urban Institute report unveiled at the ceremony.
“After the historic passage of the US Civil Rights Act, the District chose to advance opportunity and protections even further with the adoption of the DC Human Rights Act, one of the most progressive non-discrimination laws in the nation,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “The Language Access Act of 2004 is a continuation of our move towards equality for all in our city. We know disparities still exist, and that there is more work to be done. But we also know that for the last decade, as a result of the Language Access Act, those who speak little or no English have had better access to government services.”
To mark this ten year anniversary, OHR commissioned a report from the Urban Institute that analyzes current immigrant demographics and the implementation of the Language Access Act, and makes recommendations for improved access to government services for limited and non-English speaking people. The report – released at tonight’s celebration – recommends increasing multilingual government personnel, improving data collection and analysis, exploring greater enforcement powers for the Act, and further expanding existing community engagement efforts. It also notes that roughly five percent of the District population is limited or non-English proficient, and the top spoken languages are Spanish, Amharic, French and Chinese. Additional top languages (in alphabetical order) include: Filipino/Tagalog, German, Kru, Italian, Portuguese and Vietnamese.
“Linguistic diversity provides so much richness to the District, and the immigrants who live here contribute so much to our economy and culture,” said OHR Director Mónica Palacio. “Over the last decade, the District has become a more welcoming place because of the language access efforts of government and advocates, and we will use both the first-hand knowledge of advocates and the new Urban Institute report to improve services for limited and non-English proficient residents over the next ten years.”
The Urban Institute report commissioned by OHR can be found at ohr.dc.gov/10years/report. “The Road to a Global DC: 10 Years of Language Access and Immigrant Inclusion” event was held at Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, and included the release of the report findings and a panel of experts to talk about those findings. Speakers included Dr. Julia Gelatt, Research Associate at the Urban Institute, who explained the findings, and Ronnie Galvin, Jr., Executive Director of IMPACT Silver Spring. Panelists included Dr. Hamutal Bernstein, Research Associate at the Urban Institute; Maria Gomez, President and CEO of The Mary’s Center; Loide Jorge, Vice Chair of the DC Commission on African Affairs; and Sapna Pandya, Executive Director of Many Languages One Voice.
About the Language Access Program
The Language Access (LA) Program exists to ensure District residents who are limited and non-English proficient (LEP/NEP) are afforded equal access to information and services provided by the District. Residents who speak limited English must be offered interpretation services and/or translated documents when obtaining services, as required by the DC Language Access Act of 2004. The LA Program team engages in extensive community outreach, provides training and technical support to District agencies working with LEP/NEP residents, and measures the effectiveness of agencies in serving such populations by examining resource allocation and delivery.
About the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (OHR) was established to eradicate discrimination, increase equal opportunity and protect human rights for persons who live in or visit the District of Columbia. The agency enforces local and federal human rights laws, including the DC Human Rights Act, by providing a legal process to those who believe they have been discriminated against. OHR also proactively enforces human rights in the District through Director’s Inquiries, which allow it to identify and investigate practices and policies that may be discriminatory.