enhancing access for individuals with limited english profiency toolkit

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Any organization that receives federal financial assistance—either directly or indirectly—is required to comply with Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964 [1] (Title VI) and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 [2] (Safe Streets Act). Both Title VI and the Safe Streets Act prohibit recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin.

The Supreme Court has defined one type of national origin discrimination as discrimination that is based on a person’s inability to speak, read, write or understand English [3].

Title VI regulations speaks to those policies and practices that appear neutral but have an inadvertent discriminatory effect:

[A] recipient entity's policies or practices regarding the provision of benefits and services to LEP persons need not be intentional to be discriminatory, but may constitute a violation of Title VI if they have an adverse effect on the ability of national origin minorities to meaningfully access programs and services. [4]

Executive Order 13166, titled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” was issued in 2000 and requires federal agencies and recipients of federal funds to implement meaningful language access policies and practices in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act [5].

Most domestic violence and sexual assault programs in the U.S. receive some form of federal funding, either directly or passed through state governments through grants, contracts or subcontracts from different sources, including: the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA); the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA); the Services, Training, Officers and Prosecutors (STOP) grants program; or other programs of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also provides federal funding to shelters.

This is still a highly relevant issue today, as barriers to language access continue to have a life or death impact for some survivors. In 2014, in the case of Deisy Garcia, several police reports made in Spanish were not translated and went uninvestigated until after the deaths of Deisy and her daughters at the hands of her abusive partner.


[1] Section 601 of Title VI, 42 U.S.C. sec. 2000d states that “No person in the United States shall on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.“

[2] The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. sec. 3789d(c).

[3] Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).

[4] In 2002, the Department of Justice issued final Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons. 67 Fed. Reg. 41,455 (June 18, 2002) (DOJ Guidance).

[5] 65 Fed. Reg. 50, 121 (Aug. 16, 2000). If an organization in any way receives federal funds then all aspects of that organization are obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to benefits and services.