Padilla Calls on DOJ to Make Government Services Accessible in More Languages
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and 18 of their Senate colleagues in working to make government services accessible in more languages by calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to direct Federal agencies to update their Language Access Plans, helping ensure people whose primary language is not English can access critical information and resources in their preferred language.
“Language barriers can impact access to vital services and information related to education, the legal system, health care, housing, and more,” the Senators wrote. “We ask that you issue a memorandum directing Federal agencies to update their Language Access Plans to meet the present-day needs.”
These language plans, some of which have not been updated in nearly a decade, would direct agencies to update their websites to include language assistance services and boost the distribution of translated materials.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. Similarly, a recent report found over 67 million households spoke a language other than English at home.
Senator Padilla is a strong advocate for accurate and accessible information in both English and non-English languages. Padilla has questioned witnesses before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on how social media platforms are failing to address Spanish language disinformation circulating on their sites. He also sent a letter to tech CEOs to raise the alarm over the increasing rate of Spanish and other non-English language disinformation across social media platforms.
In addition to Senators Padilla and Ossoff, the letter was signed by Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear Attorney General Garland:
Thank you for your continued service leading the Department of Justice (DOJ). There are more than 25 million people living in the United States who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), meaning they are not fluent in, or have difficulty communicating in, English. Language barrier scan impact access to vital services and information related to education, the legal system, healthcare, housing, and more. We ask that you issue a memorandum directing federal agencies to update their Language Access Plans to meet the present day needs of LEP individuals.
In 2000, Executive Order 13166 directed federal agencies to develop Language Access Plans outlining systems to make services and resources available to LEP individuals. The Executive Order also directed agencies to issue guidance to federal grant recipients outlining their Title VI obligations to provide all users, regardless of language ability, with “meaningful access” to their services.
In 2011, after agencies demonstrated varying degrees of progress on language accessibility, the DOJ issued a memorandum renewing the federal government’s commitment to language access. This memo directed agencies to update their Language Access Plans to comply with Executive Order 13166. These plans are available on LEP.gov, yet some have not been updated since 2012.
We ask that you issue a similar memorandum directing all federal agencies to submit updated Language Access Plans to the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section of the DOJ within a year. The plans should address how agencies will make their documents available online in as many languages as possible. Using the newly released guide “Improving Access to Public Websites and Digital Services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Persons,” developed by the Title VI Interagency Working Group, agencies should audit their websites and digital services to ensure that all vital information (and the directions to navigate to that information) is accessible to LEP persons. For example, agencies should confirm that their websites contain multilingual tagline notices informing LEP persons of the availability of language assistance services. The plans should also include information about how the agencies will educate nonprofits, businesses, and local government entities about the existence of translated materials to ensure that they reach LEP populations.
With new census data at hand for agencies to better understand the demographics of the populations they are currently serving and evolving technology, now is the time to enforce our nation’s commitment to language access. We respectfully request that you respond to our request by February 25, 2022.