In 1964, a nation dealing with turmoil over segregation and still mourning a fallen President took a step forward, passing a new Civil Rights Act. The new law prevented discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and outlawed unequal voter registration practices and segregation in schools or public accommodations. Occasional amendments, executive orders, and case law have changed how it is applied and viewed, but for over 56 years it has formed the bedrock of America’s civil rights and labor law.
If your organization receives federal funds, you fall under Title VI of the act, which prevents any discrimination by such “programs and activities.” Since 2000, the federal government has required such organizations to make reasonable efforts to provide “meaningful access” for limited English proficient (LEP) persons. Let’s look at the overall situation, how to assess your own vulnerabilities and needs, and how to lay the foundation for ongoing compliance.
Recognize a Growing Need
Between 1990 and 2015, the number of LEP persons in America grew by 80%, surging past 25 million. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, 76% of them are adults of working age; in fact about 1 in 10 Americans of working age is less than proficient in English.
Working age adults make up the majority of those using government/government funded services and are the parents and caregivers of the student and elderly populations. It’s certain you’ll encounter this wide segment of America’s population on a regular basis.
Assess Your Organization in Light of the “Reasonable Effort” Standard
According to the HHS guidance for Title VI compliance, the standard balances four factors:
- The number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program
- The frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact
- The nature and importance of the program/activity/service to people’s lives
- The resources available to the federal fund grantee/recipient, and costs.
Begin by assessing your program by these measures. For example, an elementary school will encounter more LEP students and families than the school of pharmacology at a state university, but in both cases the contact will be frequent and very important to the LEP’s life. When in doubt, lean toward assessing the need as higher rather than lower.
Consider what resources might be available to your organization as a whole. For example, dermatology or oncology practices in a healthcare network may have less call to use interpreters than the emergency department, but will usually have full access to any interpreter services the network as a whole has contracted for.
Check for Funding Sources
Rest assured that resources you spend will be well worth the cost, but also, the cost is likely to be relatively low. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that language services add only 0.5% to the average cost of a visit.
Still, funding may be available to cover language service expenses. In addition to foundation or government grants, some states reimburse these costs, and Medicaid provides funding for medical interpretation.
In our next post, we’ll review some ways you can make sure that daily operations are LEP-friendly and you remain in full compliance with Title VI.