Language Access is a Civil Right

Equal access to government services regardless of language ability is critical to a healthy and safe community. D.C. has some of the strongest laws in the country regarding language access.  Unfortunately, the District has not always lived up to the promise of these laws. The DC Department of Human Services (DHS) repeatedly failed to provide language access services to DC residents, violating the civil rights of individual residents and harming the overall health of the community.   

D.C residents like plaintiff Maria Amaya Torres, who had her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan benefits (food stamps) slashed by two-thirds after DHS refused her request for an interpreter at a recertification appointment understands how devastating the lack of language services can be. Minerva Nolasco was denied critical medical care when she was seven months pregnant because her health insurance benefits were canceled due to failure to provide language access services.

Thanks to those two courageous women, D.C. is now healthier and safer. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee, along with Hogan Lovells US LLP and Bread for the City, reached a settlement agreement with DHS, in which it pledged to comply with language access obligations under the DC Language Access Act, the DC Human Rights Act, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, DHS agreed to make important structural changes to ensure that language access is provided: designating an ombudsman at each of its service centers to assist anyone experiencing language access problems and establishing a Language Access Customer Advisory Group to monitor its compliance with the settlement.

Immigrants, and likewise our community, can only thrive when they are provided the access to the government that all Americans are guaranteed.  Ms. Amaya Torres and Ms. Nolasco helped make that guarantee a reality in the District.

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