E.g., 12/08/2023
E.g., 12/08/2023
Using Office Language Access Liaisons to Streamline the Delivery of Language Services

Using Office Language Access Liaisons to Streamline the Delivery of Language Services

By Jenny Munoz and Laura V. González-Murphy

New York in October 2022 became the second state to create an Office of Language Access (OLA) to oversee and coordinate access to state agencies and services for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals. Implementing language access policies and practices across large departments that provide a variety of services to the public requires a strategy that delivers effective guidance and tools to specific programs while also allowing a degree of flexibility so the measures can be customized to different services and constituency needs. To help ensure language access across its many services and diverse constituencies, the New York Department of State has been using program-level Language Access Liaisons since 2017. This Practitioner’s Corner details how the department has implemented this structure to better promote language access across its programs.

What policies does New York State have on language access?

In April 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul created the Office of Language Access and updated the state’s language access policy as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted Budget she signed into law. With that law, New York became the second state to create an Office of Language Access (joining Hawaii, which created its Office of Language Access in 2006). The law, which took effect on July 1, 2022, codified and expanded a previous language access policy that was issued in 2011 via executive order from then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (Executive Orders 26 and 26.1).

Under the 2022 law on language access, New York requires executive state agencies to:

  • Provide oral interpretation services between the agency and member of the public in the individual’s primary language with respect to the provision of agency services or benefits.
  • Translate vital documents relevant to services offered by the agency into the top 12 non-English languages spoken by LEP individuals based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey (“ACS”). Agencies, in consultation with the Office of Language Access, may translate vital documents in up to four additional languages based on criteria identified in the language access law. These criteria include: the number of recently arrived LEP immigrants, the growth of recent arrival populations in the geographic regions throughout the state where the agency’s services are offered, the population of LEP individuals served by the agency, community feedback, and other relevant data published by the Census Bureau.
  • Designate a Language Access Coordinator who will work with the Office of Language Access to ensure compliance with the law’s requirements.
  • Develop and submit a Language Access Plan to the Office of Language Access and publish it on the agency’s website. Agencies must update and reissue their plans every two years.

The new law helps the state overcome language barriers to public services and programs for people with limited English proficiency.

Why did the New York Department of State decide to use Language Access Liaisons?

The Department of State is home to many offices that serve very different purposes and address a variety of needs that New Yorkers may face daily. For example, the department hosts the Office for New Americans but also oversees boxing and mixed martial arts matches, regulates cemeteries, and licenses barber and nail salons. The department is also home to the Address Confidentiality Program, the Division of Consumer Protection, the Division of Community Services, the Division of Local Government, and more. While two divisions may have similar missions, the services they provide may be very different and ever changing to reflect the needs of their clients. Monitoring this multiplicity of services, missions and goals, and the needs of their clients, can be challenging, especially when it comes to ensuring language access.

To comply with the state’s language access policy and to streamline and remain current regarding division needs and policy changes, the department’s Language Access Coordinator and team developed a system of Language Access Liaisons for each office within the Department of State. The liaisons are connected to the department’s Language Access Coordinator team to receive and provide information on language services. This model effectively represents a smaller-scale version of the role of Language Access Coordinators placed at each state agency but led by the Governor’s Office of Language Access. Having this system in place allows the Department of State’s Language Access Coordinator to communicate and train the divisions on accessing language services in a more efficient manner.

What is the role of the Language Access Liaison?

The liaison serves as the point of contact for their office at the department regarding the language access needs of constituents. Within each office, the Language Access Liaison is responsible for ensuring that language access needs are met and enacts, along with the office’s director, the language access plan for their office. Language Access Liaisons also work with the department’s Fiscal Office to ensure timely payment of language services. They work with the Language Access Coordinator team to respond in a timely fashion to interpreter deficiencies.

Language access needs can arise at any moment, so office directors are encouraged to designate a secondary Language Access Liaison, particularly if the primary liaison will be out of office.

How does the Department of State support Language Access Liaisons?

There are a variety of ways the Language Access Coordinator team ensures Language Access Liaisons have support. The Language Access Coordinator team provides liaisons and customer-serving staff with mandatory training on 1) the state language access law, 2) how to access interpretation and translation services, 3) how to report vendor deficiencies, and 4) language access best practices. The Language Access Coordinator team also provides ongoing trainings, particularly if there are changes to the delivery of language access services. In addition to this training for liaisons, the state has a mandatory hour-long language access training for state staff.

The Language Access Coordinator team also maintains a SharePoint site with easy-to-access information on how to request language services. It features recordings of past trainings, information on how to report vendor deficiency, and other ways that the Language Access Coordinator team supports liaisons related to the functions of their specific offices, including:

  • Interpreter rules and responsibilities: The Department of State has developed an Interpreter Rules and Responsibilities document for boxing and mixed martial arts bouts that provides guidance for interpreters, ranging from dress code, what to expect onsite, and what is not acceptable behavior for this type of event.
  • Glossary of terms: The Language Access Liaisons help inform the development of a glossary of commonly used terms for their office. The glossary is shared with the translation vendor.
  • Volunteer bank: The liaison is encouraged to distribute information on the Language Access Volunteer Bank, which allows department staff who are fluent in other languages to provide language assistance should they be willing to do so.

What suggestions do you have for policymakers or agencies interested in strengthening their delivery of language access? How do you encourage buy-in from liaisons?

It is important to have a strong and clear line of communication between the Language Access Coordinator team and liaisons. Also, having them be part of the selection of the language service provider they will be working with is important since this helps ensure that the provider is best equipped to serve their language needs. Lastly, Language Access Liaisons are the Language Access Coordinator team’s best allies in the successful effective delivery of language access for constituents.

The Language Access Coordinator team helps liaisons respond to their unique needs. Forms are translated into languages beyond the top 12, including Tibetan, Dari, Pashto, Ukrainian, Nepali, and Vietnamese. This is based on past requests for language access assistance, such as calls requiring interpretation and past requests for interpreters.

For the Department of State, developing a system of Language Access Liaisons within each office was necessary to communicate, train, and respond effectively to the language access needs of constituents across all of its different offices. Engaging each division to assess priorities for training—for example, do they have more need for interpreters over the phone or through Webex—allows for the provision of more effective language services.

Jenny Munoz is Senior Manager for Policy and Strategic Partnerships for the New York State Office for New Americans and serves as Deputy Language Access Coordinator for the New York State Department of State. Dr. Laura V. González-Murphy is Executive Director of the New York State Office for New Americans and the Language Access Coordinator for New York’s Department of State.