enhancing access for individuals with limited english profiency toolkit

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Safety Alert: If you believe your computer activities are being monitored, please access this site from a safer computer. To immediately exit this site, click the escape button. If you are in immediate danger, contact 911, a local crisis line, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) refers to individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. To determine which individuals may have limited English proficiency, consider the following:

  • English is not their primary language;
  • They have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English;
  • There has been a determination by that person of their need for language assistance.

It is important to note that it is the right of the individual and therefore the individual, not an agency, determines the need for language access.

Approximately 25.2 million individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) currently live in the U.S., many of whom are immigrants. The number of individuals with LEP living in the United States has increased by approximately 80 percent between 1990 and 2010 [1]. While the majority of residents with LEP are concentrated in traditional immigrant-destination states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey), other states have experienced a significant increase in the percentage of residents with LEP. For instance, Nevada, North Carolina, and Georgia saw sharp increases in their populations with LEP, with growth rates of over 375% [2]. 

Those with limited English proficiency may have varying levels of language acquisition over time. A survivor with LEP, however, may have additional, abuse-specific challenges to learning English if the abuser has isolated her or denied her access to English classes.

Given the growing diversity and mobility of the US population, community-based programs and services such as sexual/domestic violence programs can benefit from building their capacities to engage with anyone in their communities whose preferred language is not English. Implementing a Language Access Plan—a proactive approach to assisting survivors who have limited English proficiency—reduces the number of language-access obstacles for survivors and advocates alike, makes the advocate’s job more efficient, and enhances outcomes for survivors. In addition to being the right thing to do, language accessibility is also legally required  of federally-funded programs.

Interested in knowing which languages are spoken in your community? One comprehensive and easy-to-use resource is the Modern Language Association’s MLA Language Map Data Center.


[1] Limited English Proficient Individuals in the United States: Number, Share, Growth, and Linguistic Diversity, Migration Policy Institute, December 2011.

[2] LEP Data Brief, Migration Policy Institute, December 2011 found at http://www.migrationinformation.org/integration/LEPdatabrief.pdf, p.4.  The information in this brief was compiled from U.S. Census Bureau and Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) data.