Language access

Community language assessment

Which languages are spoken by those who come to our program?

Identify the top 3 to 5 languages (other than English) spoken by participants who come to your program. Although they may be the same languages from Step 1, don’t assume that to be the case. If the number of survivors with LEP in your program does not reflect the demographic make-up of your community, this may be because there are barriers for these individuals to access your program – for example, they are not aware of your program or believe your program is not accessible to them.

Review your program’s demographic data to see which survivors with LEP have contacted your organization and with what frequency:

  • Pull numbers from all aspects of your program – hotline, shelter, support groups, outreach, community advocacy initiatives, and any advocates co-located in systems, community and outreach programs.
  • List the languages spoken by survivors participating in these programs. Rank them by numbers of survivors (largest to smallest) who speak the languages, across all programs. For example, if in the past year, 1200 persons spoke Korean and 950 spoke Cantonese, rank them in that order.

List the languages spoken by people accessing your program services, ranked by the size of the population that speaks each language, on the language access plan template, Section 1B: Language access needs.

Compare these numbers to the community demographic data:
  • Do you provide services in all the languages spoken in your community? If not, this will tell you the languages for which you need to provide access.
  • Is your program serving persons who speak different languages to the same proportion they are present in your community? In other words, are your rankings of languages similar? If not, this will tell you the languages for which you need to enhance access.

Now consider how you are serving persons with LEP: are they accessing the full range of program services, or are they, for example, overrepresented in outreach and public awareness, but underrepresented in hotline and shelter? This will tell you if there are program areas that are doing especially well or which need focused attention; it may help you identify practices you already have that should be implemented more broadly

Check in carefully with your program staff to ask about their experiences about who is accessing services, the options staff have for different linguistic groups, and how this influences survivor choice and safety. It is important that these conversations and surveys are framed as inquiries about organizational capacity, not staff performance.

This step is very useful for identifying who IS and who is NOT using your services. It is important to thoughtfully explore why your program is not serving this community. You may wish to use your Language Access Plan as part of the process of building working relationships with members of this community.

Monitor and evaluate interpreter and translator services

Do your interpreters and translators understand and abide by ethics and confidentiality, and are they trained on sexual and domestic violence? If they are members of professional associations, such as the American Translators Association or the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, ask for copies of their codes of ethics and confidentiality forms. If they are not members of professional associations, consider developing your own ethics and confidentiality forms and/or working with community partners to develop shared standards.

  • Sample Interview Questions for Prospective Interpreters
  • Interpreter Code of Ethics
  • Sample Interpreter Confidentiality Form

A process for developing translated materials is outlined on pages 6-8 of this report from Alianza.

Are your staff trained to work with interpreters? 

Bilingual staff/volunteers – recruit, train, retain

It is important to evaluate the language skills of bilingual staff and volunteers, to ensure your program is providing quality advocacy and to support ongoing staff development. The Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence developed an excellent tool, The Fluency, Accuracy, Neutrality, Safety (F.A.N.S.) Checklist, for bilingual advocates to assess their own language abilities.

Your program may need to develop policies and practices about when and how advocates should (and should not) provide interpretation for others. This checklist can help your program build this policy and practice, helps advocates to better respond to these requests, and builds advocates’ abilities to explain to the survivor the roles of advocate vs. interpreter so the survivor may make better-informed decisions about language access. It can also be used as part of training and supervision of advocates who are likely to be asked to interpret for other entities.