The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 8% of people in the US (25.1 million people) are Limited English Proficient (LEP). LEP refers to individuals who are not fluent in, or have difficulty communicating in, English. While most LEPs are immigrants, nearly 4.7 million were born in the US. LEP populations also include deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. According to data compiled by Galludet University, anywhere from 0.9% to 2.2% of the US population has a severe hearing impairment or are deaf.
Due to the US’ sizeable LEP population, there is a strong need for language access – this entails providing equitable access to, and understanding of, universally available services. As the Department of State defines it, language access involves “reasonable efforts to eliminate or reduce limited English proficiency as a barrier to accessing … programs or activities.” Additionally, the Department also advocates that this “is based on the principle that it is the responsibility of the Department and not the LEP person to take reasonable steps to ensure that communications … are not impaired.
It’s not only about communicating. Language access allows individuals to equally participate in society and use the services available to them. People should not be penalized and isolated due to the language they use to communicate. Therefore, the onus for levelling the ability to converse is on the party that uses the dominant language. Without language access, we deprive individuals of their dignity and skirt our moral, and oftentimes legal, obligations.
Without language access, we deprive individuals of their dignity and skirt our moral, and oftentimes legal, obligations.