This month the Office of Human Rights (OHR) celebrates the 5th Anniversary of the DC Language Access Act of 2004. The Language Access Program was established by the OHR to lead the citywide implementation of the local law, which was enacted to provide greater access and participation in public services, programs, and activities for residents of the District of Columbia with limited or no-English proficiency (LEP/NEP). The Language Access Program works in consultation with a variety of government offices that conduct outreach to communities, as well as with the DC Language Access Coalition (“Coalition”) — an alliance of diverse community-based organizations written by name into the law — to ensure that LEP/NEP residents are exercising their legal rights and receiving services in their language. Government partners include the Mayor’s constituency offices on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (OAPIA), Latino Affairs (OLA) and African Affairs (OAA).
Throughout its five years of overseeing and enforcing the Act, the OHR has observed systemic improvements in the equitable provision of services and behavior by the government. Agencies’ language access plans have become more comprehensive than in years past highlighting changes in policies, procedures and practices; complaints have increased by 87% since the Act’s inception, which indicate the success of public/private partnerships and information dissemination; the usage of the District’s telephonic interpretation service has risen by 60 percent since FY07; and result’s from the District’s quality assurance customer service testing in foreign languages have overall improved.
As part of recognizing the 5th Anniversary of the Act, OHR’s Director, Gustavo Velasquez, issued a letter to District government agencies covered by law thanking them for their continued participation and leadership in the effort to ensure LEP/NEP residents have equal access to District government services.