Throughout history, lack of access to adequate healthcare information has left the Limited English Proficient (LEPs) community vulnerable.  The Great Pandemic of 1918 (Spanish Flu) illustrated racial and ethnic disparity in mortality rates that have echoed since. 

The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003, despite its relatively quick containment, presented the same issues for LEPs. PGLS team member David Evseeff reflects on his experience, noting ‘I know the feeling when it comes to being in a foreign country during a pandemic (SARS, when I lived in Taiwan) and needing to get information. Now, fortunately, I spoke fluent Chinese at the time, so it wasn’t an issue so much for me, but for many of my expat compatriots, they had no idea what was going on or what the instructions were that the government was providing.’ 

Likewise, in 2009, Spanish and Chinese speaking members of the LEP community found it more difficult to access proper information relating to H1N1 (Swine Flu). In fact ‘In 2017, a major report confirmed what we expected: People with limited English proficiency do not receive adequate health information, which ultimately exacerbates health disparities.’ These frightening examples underscore the vital role that equal access to critical healthcare communications plays in times of crisis.

Discrimination Reform: Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964

In an effort to curb intentional discrimination, the US Government enacted Title VI as a part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VI, national origin discrimination against LEP persons was prohibited. 

It is during times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, that exemplifies the critical role of meaningful access to health and government communications for all Americans. Rather than a matter of congeniality, failure to provide equal access has proven to be a matter of safety and security. As such, unbiased inclusion should be a priority, and not weighed against supposed cost. For example, resources expended to provide ASL interpreters for press conferences are vastly outweighed by the price paid for failing to do so. Avoiding ineffective communication and the associated negative impacts on our society are paramount.   

As detailed in our last blog ‘The Final Rule: Revoking Health Care Protections for Limited English Proficient Individuals’, advancements made in support of eliminating discrimination recently took a fatal blow when the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the administration’s intent to roll back protections from discrimination for certain individuals seeking medical care, most notably those with LEP.  

With the government coming under fire for limiting LEPs ability to protect themselves, many LEPs are turning to trusted local community groups and non-profit organizations that advocate for immigrants to get the information they need. Needless to say, the efforts of these organizations have been, and will continue to be, invaluable in the effort to protect the 1 in 5 Americans classified as LEP. Unfortunately, many of these organizations are small, maintain limited budgets, and often rely on federal grants to support their services. With the federal and state governments failing to provide the necessary language resources for the LEP community, these organizations are struggling to bridge the gap with limited resources and funding.

Non-Profit Language Services: How We Can Help 

By ensuring equal access to vital communications, we can mitigate miscommunication errors that lead to strained resources, delays in service, higher costs, and public scrutiny. Specifically, as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, timely and effective communication can positively impact containment much more effectively and ultimately kickstart our economy much faster than by leaving a significant portion of our population (approx 25 million people) ‘in the dark’, unprotected and less equipped.

PGLS has been providing language solutions to community organizations, non-profits, and NGOs since its inception in 2013. Our clients include educational and relief organizations, advocacy groups, as well as civic and trade organizations to name a few. This experience has proven that efficient response in times of need is paramount, especially for members of the LEP community. 

At PLGS, every word matters. In support of this mission, we are committing to do more to keep the lines of communication open. That’s why, beginning now through the end of August, we will be offering special discounts for translation and interpreting services to all community outreach groups, NGOs, and non-profit organizations that are supporting our LEPs and disabled Americans.  

PGLS will also be donating relevant services to Translators Without Borders to help in the effort to combat coronavirus in disadvantaged communities worldwide. Contact us today to find out how we can help.