Mayor Orders New York to Expand Language Help

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jul 23 12:26:41 UTC 2008

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July 23, 2008
 Mayor Orders New York to Expand Language Help By FERNANDA

Navigating the city's bureaucracy can be a daunting endeavor for the nearly
three million immigrants who live in New York. Aside from a lack of
knowledge about the way government works and the services it provides, one
fundamental barrier has stood in their way: language. There are an estimated
170 foreign languages spoken in New York City, and in nearly half of all
households, English is not the primary language, according to the census in
2000. And given that the city receives more than 20 million calls from
residents each year, officials said, communication can often be a challenge.
On Tuesday, Mayor Michael R.
the city's more than 100 agencies to provide language assistance in
six foreign languages: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and French
Creole. The order requires, for the first time, that the agencies follow the
same standard when providing translation and interpretation to New Yorkers
who do not speak English.

Immigrant advocates and city officials say it is the most comprehensive
order of its kind in the country. The mayor refused to be specific about how
much the services will cost, saying only that it was a "relatively small"
amount given the size of the city's budget. He added: "This executive order
will make our city more accessible, while helping us become the most
inclusive municipal government in the nation."

"The fundamental basis of government is its interaction with its citizens,"
the mayor said before signing the executive order at City Hall on Tuesday.
"If people don't know what we do, don't know what they should do, what the
law requires them to do, don't know how to get services, all the money that
we're spending providing those services, providing those laws, is

The order requires that agencies translate essential public documents,
pamphlets and forms in the six languages. But its reach is broader, as it
allows for the use of a telephone-based service that can link immigrants
with interpreters who speak Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and dozens of others
less-common languages.

Chung-Hwa Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an
umbrella organization that works with immigrants and refugees in the state,
called the order "a landmark step toward inclusion." Councilwoman Rosie
Mendez of Manhattan, who has pushed for more translation services for public
housing dwellers, said it was a "bold and necessary action" to increasing
immigrants' access to city government.

The types of services each agency will provide will depend on how much each
of them interacts with the public. The agencies have until Jan. 1 to submit
a plan detailing how much translation and interpretation service they will
need to suit their needs.

and some elected officials have tried for more than 10 years to
get the city to provide language assistance to non-English speaking New
Yorkers, with limited success. In 2001, a federal judge approved a
settlement through which the city agreed to make available Spanish, Russian,
Chinese and Arabic copies of food stamp applications in welfare offices
around New York, as well as translation of these documents into languages
spoken by at least 100 clients who use any given office.

In recent years, the Education Department's translation unit has been
expanded to provide parents with information in eight languages. The city's
311 customer-service center has allowed interactions in 170 languages since
it was formed in 2003. And the Office of Emergency Management has offered
audio translations of some public documents to those who cannot speak
English and are visually impaired, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bloomberg said.

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