Building a Broader Language Access Movement

Last Friday at “La Casa” in Mt. Pleasant, Many Languages / One Voice (MLOV) advocates gathered for a powerful (and long overdue) teach-in, co-hosted with the organization BeHEARDDC — a true testament to the power of grassroots coalition building.  The event was meant to highlight some of the overlapping challenges faced by deaf and LEP communities,
especially the barriers in equal access to government services.   Here’s a quick rundown of what I took away from the event:

1) Language access doesn’t have to be an immigrant rights or differently-abled issue, but a social justice issue for all.  When I think of “language access” beneficiaries, I’m picturing limited- or non-English proficient individuals in the immigrant community.   But Talila Lewis, the founder of HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf) said it doesn’t have to be that way.  Why?  Because…

2) Wrongful incarceration is an issue that impacts the immigrant AND deaf community alike, oftentimes as a result of poor language access implementation and compliance.  MLOV board member Nadia Firozvi shared a story about her and DC’s first language access complainant, a Korean man who spent 4 days in jail without interpretation… only to find out he was the wrong Mr. Lee.  As a consequence, DC was found in noncompliance with the Act and the city took major steps in retraining all of their personnel.  They now have “Liaison Units” for the Latino, API and LGBT communities.  Nevertheless, LA implementation has a long way to go, according to a recent report released by the DC Language Access Coalition and the AU-Washington College of Law.

3) Toward a broader language access movement?  Technically, the DCLAA only covers LEP/NEP individuals, not the deaf.  They are backed by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).  However, the advocates on both sides agreed that ADA and the DCLAA are not enough on their own.  Talila suggested we think about both groups as linguistic minorities, which would include spoken and visual communication.  If these groups continue mobilizing under the broader umbrella of government accessibility, I can only see a stronger movement in the future and the legislative reform that is so sorely needed.  A most inspiring event!

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