by CAINE O’REAR
Five local government agencies are breaking the law by not providing non-English speaking residents with certain translation services, according to a new report released by the Equal Rights Center, a civil rights advocacy group based in Washington.
The center found five D.C. government agencies—the Department of Human Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Employment Services, the Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration, and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—to be in non-compliance with the 2004 D.C. Language Access Act.
The act, which was passed under Mayor Anthony Williams, requires that 25 local agencies provide interpreters, as well as document translations, for any non-English language spoken by 3 percent of the population. The languages include Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, executive director of the center, was outraged at the study’s findings.
Rabbi Bruce Kahn, executive director for the Equal Rights Center, released a report Tuesday which details how five local government agencies have failed to comply with the 2004 D.C. Language Access Act. Kahn said there was “no justification for the failures.”
Observer photo by Caine O’Rear
“Such failure two years after the provisions in the act were to have been fully implemented is simply outrageous,” he said Tuesday during a press conference.
Due to limited resources, the center only focused on five city agencies. However, Kahn does not think the problem is unique to the five departments. “That defies logic,” he said.
Before the six-month investigation began, Kahn told two high-ranking officials within the D.C. government about the center’s plan to conduct the test. According to Kahn, they did nothing as a result.
As of Tuesday, the center had not heard from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s office regarding the report, Kahn said. The mayor’s office could not provide the Observer with a comment prior to press time.
Lillian Perdomo, executive director for Multicultural Community Service, a non-profit group involved with the study, blames the problem on the city’s lack of resources. She said local agencies don’t have the capacity to understand the myriad cultures within the community.
“They need technical assistance,” she said. “They need to allocate it in the budget.”
The D.C. Language Access Coalition, which also took part in the study, wrote an open letter on Tuesday to Fenty and Gustavo F. Velasquez, director of the city’s office of human rights, offering recommendations. The coalition suggested an increase in funding for language access, as well as streamlining the complaint process for non-English speakers, among other things.
Jennifer J. Deng-Pickett, who works with the coalition, said the recommendations were meant to “give more teeth to the current act as it is.”
During the press conference, Deng-Pickett told several stories in which non-English speakers had had their rights violated as a result of government agencies failing to comply with the act.
One story involved a Spanish speaker who was a victim of spousal abuse. When the police arrived on the scene, Deng Pickett said the officers had to use the woman’s child as a translator. According to Deng-Pickett, “human stories” of this kind account for the coalition’s passion on the issue.
This story was updated on 11/11/2007 to include a quote that was inadvertently omitted when first posted. The Observer regrets the error.