Many forward-thinking organizations consider interpreting services a value-center rather than a cost-center. They integrate them as an indispensable component of their customer service or care delivery model. They know that offering interpreting services can help maintain customer trust and loyalty, reach a more diverse market, and empower individuals to take control of their health and well-being.
But having a language services provider (LSP) on speed dial is only one part of the equation. Before you can start connecting with the roughly 65 million people living in the U.S. who speak a language other than English, you have to notify them that interpreting services are available in the first place — so they know they can expect first-class customer service in their native language when they turn to you.
Reaching Your LEP Customers
It’s all too common for language accommodations to be available but not easily accessible, which poses a barrier of access to foreign visitors, immigrants, and refugees alike. And, for healthcare organizations that receive federal funding, publicly posted notifications in non-English languages that indicate the availability of free language assistance services aren’t just best practice — they’re the law.
Ideally, your organization has a language access plan to spell out your strategy for how you communicate the availability of interpreting services to LEP customers. But if you don’t yet have a plan, don’t let that stop you from doing what you can to get the word out.
Posting visible notices about the availability of interpreting services is the best way to guarantee that LEP communities know they can request an interpreter — at no cost to them. Post signs at entrances, reception areas, near registers, and anywhere else LEP customers might need assistance or interact with your staff. You’ll also see this information on websites, translated documents, telephone tree options, kiosks, marketing materials, and community-focused outreach.
Empowering Your LEP Customers
The last thing you want is to make your LEP customers feel like accommodating their language needs is an inconvenience. Helping them feel empowered to access your services will foster a more positive experience and contribute to a smoother interaction.
With this goal in mind, below are some examples of language access materials you can use to promote interpreting services, assist with language identification, and help LEP individuals more confidently use your services.
“I Speak” cards
These pocket-sized cards can be branded and customized with information specific to each organization or department. Most often used in a healthcare environment, these contain a place for a hospital staff member to write the patient’s name and preferred language. That way the patient can keep the card with them and show it when needed. This gives them more agency to quickly communicate what language they need an interpreter in. These cards can also minimize the time needed to identify that interpreting services are required and in what language.
Language ID brochures, posters, and counter easels
These materials provide language identification assistance translated into the language mix most appropriate for that area’s demographics. This enables LEP individuals to easily self-identify their language simply by pointing. They come in a variety of sizes and formats.
Patient communication assessment tool
This reusable tool helps staff identify the best mode of communication for deaf, hearing-impaired, and minimal-language customers. It contains a series of questions to ask customers (and/or their families) to determine the level of support they require. The tool also provides tips on what devices/services to offer, how to best communicate with the customer, etc.
Taglines are short sentences written in the individual’s language notifying them of their right to language assistance. In healthcare, taglines are currently mandated by Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A sample tagline might look something like this for English:
ATTENTION: If you speak [insert language], language assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx (TTY: 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx).
And this for Spanish:
ATENCIÓN: Si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx (TTY: 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx).
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has dozens of translated taglines available for free on their website.
Your LSP should work with you to determine what materials will work best for your LEP customers. They should also be willing to customize them for you as needed.
Don’t see something you need? Then ask for it! Your LSP will let you know what language access materials are available, but let them know if you need something they don’t offer. Collaborative LSPs, like CLI, will work with you to develop new types of materials to enhance your customer service and ensure you can communicate with all your customers.
CLI wants to make sure you are doing everything you can to provide meaningful access to your LEP customers, and language access materials are just the beginning. Download CLI’s Language Access Planning Workbook now to develop, enhance, or update your organization’s language access plan.