The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) has filed a complaint with multiple U.S. federal agencies contending that federal, state, and local agencies have failed to provide meaningful access to COVID-19 services to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).
The complaint documents numerous cases of English-only assistance, including in New York City where signage and intake questions at a department of health vaccination site in Chinatown were not available in Chinese, and in Colorado where no interpreting services were available in Navajo, Pueblo, Zapotec, and Mixtec. In Los Angeles, COVID services available in other languages were frequently provided by automated translation applications which have a history of inaccurate medical and technical translation. According to NHeLP, the problem is nationwide.
The organization recommended six steps that should be taken as quickly as possible to ensure access to COVID-19 testing, vaccines, treatment, and contact tracing for the nation’s nearly 66-million people with LEP.
- Advise entities not to use automated translation software that has not been verified by a qualified translator;
- Engage in monitoring/enforcement regarding the development and use of websites, web-based applications, call centers, and vaccination sites;
- Advise funding recipients to prioritize the use of qualified, in-person interpretation and, for those situations involving less frequently encountered languages, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and the Federal Emergency Management Agency should issue guidance to ensure quality remote interpreting;
- Clarify that federal COVID funding can pay for language services and that federal funded entities should compensate community-based organizations when they are being used to provide information and assistance;
- Ensure that data on primary language is collected from recipients, optimally at the first point of contact. This will improve future monitoring and planning activities; and
- For written materials/information, prepare and make available high-quality translated materials and standard taglines for all federal fund recipients to use.