Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on national origin. One characteristic included within “natural origin” is a person’s native language; thus, the Act ensures the accessibility of programs to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). Executive Order 13166 extends this requirement beyond organizations that receive federal assistance to all federal government agencies. Each recipient organization and federal agency division must have a plan for providing access for LEP individuals. Accessibility for many LEP individuals starts with communication–including oral interpretation and written translation services.
Do the translation requirements in Executive Order 13166 mean organizations and federal agencies must translate documents into every language?
No. The law requires reasonable steps are taken to ensure meaningful access to services, programs, and activities. “Reasonable steps” and “meaningful access” are both terms that will be applied differently to various programs based on the program’s specific details. The Department of Justice created a four-factor analysis to determine what materials must be translated into which languages:
- Evaluation of the number or proportion of LEP persons served or encountered in the eligible service population. Agencies should review census data, school system demographics, and analytics from other community services to determine the population of LEP individuals by native language in the service area.
- Evaluation of the frequency LEP individuals come in contact with the program. Those organizations or agencies that serve LEP individuals more frequently will need a more robust plan for interpretation and translation than an organization that sees only one or two LEP individuals per year.
- Evaluation of the nature and importance of the program, activity, or service. Some programs such as healthcare or education are more critical than other discretionary programs such as recreational activities. Organizations and agencies providing more critical services need to have stronger plans in place.
- The measure of the Resources Available to the Recipient. The larger an organization is, the greater the expectation is that they have resources available to provide a more substantial plan for language translation.
Does the law require all materials to be translated?
No. The law requires an organization or agency’s policy to ensure that vital written materials are translated into the language of each regularly encountered LEP group eligible to be served and/or likely to be affected by the recipient’s program.
Examples of vital documents include:
- Consent and complaint forms
- Intake forms with the potential for important consequences
- Written notices of rights, denial, loss, or decreases in benefits or services, parole, and other hearing notices
- Notices of disciplinary action
- Notices advising LEP persons of free language assistance
- Prison rule books
- Written tests that do not assess English language competency, but test competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which knowing English is not required
- Applications to participate in a recipient’s program or activity or to receive recipient benefits or services
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