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The 2021 Language Access Wins that Had Us Jumping for Joy

The year 2021 started and ended somberly, but the last 12 months did have a few shining moments:

But none shined more brightly to us than the policies and innovations put forth to protect the rights of those with limited English.

While we still have a long road ahead, 2021 saw leaps over steps in some cases. We just hope this trend continues long into the future.

Keep reading for the most notable of the bunch!

The COVID-19 Language Access Act

Early in 2021, Congress Member Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the COVID-19 Language Access Act. The legislation would require all federal entities that accept pandemic-related assistance to translate coronavirus materials into 20 (!!!) languages.

Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting

To commemorate the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” President Biden signed an executive order to promote voting access. Notable parts of the order include: ensuring the information available on is translated into appropriate languages and expanding language access for Native American voters. 

New York City’s Language Access for All

A new initiative, called Language Access for All, will provide much-needed funding for language access to multilingual families across NYC’s five boroughs. The funds will focus on four areas: a “know your rights” campaign, expanding communication outlets to reach more families, language access resources for school staff, and working with community-based organizations to provide workshops and support.  

Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act

In late 2021, Congress member Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a bill to expand language access in mental health settings, albeit with a spin not usually seen in similar pieces of legislation. 

The bill, called the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act, focuses on:

  • Incentivizing mental health professionals to serve at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), preferably where at least 20% of the population speaks a language other than English; and
  • Establishing a grant program for FQHCs to find, recruit, and hire qualified multilingual mental health professionals.  

H.R. 3009—the Improving Language Access in Mortgage Servicing Act

Currently, no federal law exists that mandates lenders to provide language services to LEP borrows. Texas Representative Sylvia Garcia wants to change that with the Improving Language Access in Mortgage Servicing Act.

The bill includes provisions on creating a standardized language preference form and providing interpreting services and/or translated documents related to the residential mortgage process.

The Beach Emergency Evacuation Lights System (BEELS)

The beautiful California coast can turn scary quickly, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Beach Emergency Evacuation Lights System (BEELS) is a first-of-its-kind warning system that uses a combination of light, sound, and verbal (in English and Spanish) warning to alert beachgoers of danger. 

Related: This Land Was Made For You and Me … But Is It Accessible?

The Immigrant Health Academy

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) started the Immigrant Health Academy with the belief that everyone, no matter their immigration status, deserves quality healthcare. The group has rallied around three goals: empower immigrants through healthcare-focused “know your rights” campaigns; train leaders in immigrant communities to navigate the healthcare system while empowering others to do so; and create materials to help people access the healthcare system.

To get started on your own journey to protect the rights of the limited English proficient individuals in your community, download our Language Access Workbook.