Language Access Policy: The Big Picture

Jul. 11, 2012 / By

Editor’s Note: Community organizations and residents recently met in Downtown Long Beach to discuss the proposed Language Access Policy. Community Reporter Patrick Moreno wrote this “Big Picture” background story. 

Long Beach community members are beginning to rally to support CD-6, a proposal to provide language access to the more than 40% of residents whose primary language is not English. The proposal, sponsored by Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews and Ninth District Councilmember Steve Neal, would create a citywide policy for improving language access.

More than 8 months after the initiative was first heard by City Council, a committee of Long Beach nonprofits is working with city staff to return to the council chambers with a first draft of a plan.

The Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC) and the United Cambodian Community (UCC) have been engaging citizens at the ground level to build support for CD-6’s next day at City Council. They hope to convince the Council of the importance of this proposal even under the ever looming guillotine of state budget cuts.

Recently, the two groups hosted the “Many Languages, One Voice,” event at First Friends Church on Atlantic Avenue to hear more public opinion on the proposed changes. VoiceWaves’ Jesus Hernandez covered the event.

Community organizer and LBIRC member Laura Merryfield said, “The City first agreed to work with us in November, but more recently, they informed the groups participating in this project that they wanted more community input.”

In the audio recording below, Evangelina Ramirez, who attended the event, explains her reasons for supporting the initiative. Among those reasons, said Ramirez, was her inability to speak to or understand the members of City Council at an earlier meeting. She also said that even though she counts herself as an English speaker, she has a very hard time understanding what is said in the Council chambers.

Merryfield, who works with citizens like Ramirez, said that, “To some people it’s not even about speaking to City Council, it’s as simple as getting some help paying for utilities.” For many people whom the IRC serves, Merryfield believes these changes can fix basic misunderstandings of what resources are available to them. She said, “ Those assistance programs are there, [People] just don’t know how to access them.”

She went on to describe a situation where a non-English-speaking woman called the utility company to discuss a bill. The woman did not mention that her husband had taken ill and medical equipment had to be set-up in their home. Because of the language barrier, however, she was not informed of the tax credits and incentives given to persons obligated to run medical equipment. Merryfield said the woman felt she was left with no choice and told people at the LBIRC, “Thank God, we finally moved.”

Also in the recording that follows, Senior Attorney for the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, Susanne Browne said, “Right now, we don’t have a policy to ensure that the city’s programs, services, and meetings are accessible to people who don’t speak English as their primary language.” In addition to the lack of protocol, Browne went on to mention that equal language access was mandated at the federal level in an executive order by then President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Twelve years later, the City’s language access policy is finally ready for it’s retrofitting of new and improved communications between city government and residents.

Listen to interviews here: Language Access Community Interviews





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