enhancing access for individuals with limited english profiency toolkit

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The federal guidance notes that a small program “where contact is infrequent, [or] where the total cost of providing language services is relatively high” may not have the same obligations to meaningful access as do larger, better-resourced programs. However, because sexual and domestic violence programs provide services considered “crucial to an individual’s day-to-day existence,” small programs with limited budgets will need to consider how they provide language access services, not whether to provide them.

The federal guidance states, “A recipient’s level of resources and the costs that would be imposed on it may have an impact on the nature of the steps it should take” [1]. For example, a bulk telephonic interpretation service contract might be too costly but pay-as-you-go telephonic interpretation services may not. 

Your program’s Language Access Plan priorities will set your resource development goals and Plan budgets, but first, you will need to develop a cost analysis of the strategies for meaningful access you identified and prioritized for your program. Based on the strategies described in this toolkit, here are a few places to begin your cost research and/or points to consider:

  1. Identify Spoken Languages 

I Speak cards and posters are available online for free. See Printouts & Translated Materials for links to samples. Google Translate is also available free online and as a smartphone app.

Many “language line” companies, such as LanguageLine Solutions and CyraCom International, offer Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI). Language lines charge approximately $4 per minute for ad hoc OPI, and a little less if your organization has a service contract. Your program may also be able to access a service contracted or paid through another group or local government agency. For example, some state domestic violence coalitions contract with language line services on behalf of their member programs, and many police departments also use language line services.

  1. Bilingual Staff

To improve your long-term language accessibility and boost staff skills and morale, consider offering a pay differential for bilingual staff. Ask if staff members have interest in achieving greater proficiency in a language; if so, consider allowing staff to use work time to enhance their language skills, or supporting staff interested in an immersion experience with additional paid time off. 

  1. Interpreters and Translators

Ask your partner agencies, local courts, and other community groups or administrative offices whom they use as in-person interpreters and translators. Many states and larger cities have interpreter and translator associations. These national associations may also be of help:

If you and/or your community partners have volunteer language resources, consider investing the staff support time to coordinate interpreter/translator training and certification, develop a “language advocate” program, or develop a language bank.

As a beginning step, you may need to build in more resources for interpreters as you build your capacity to hire bilingual/bicultural staff. As you have greater capacity to hire and retain bilingual/bicultural staff or implement other language access strategies, your interpretation expenses may decrease.

  1. Pre-recorded Material

A video shelter tour or audio recording can be a good volunteer project or a way to engage a local community business in an in-kind donation to your work with less cost.

  1. Translated Written Material

Brainstorm funding opportunities with your staff and stakeholders. This can include fundraising, of course, and also other strategies like cost-sharing with other organizations, developing cost-effective resources (such as video tours of the shelter in different languages), and working with qualified volunteers. Whether through grants, donors, or resource reallocation, funding is essential to developing an infrastructure that will support long-term language access. Remember, if you don’t provide language access services you will not be well positioned to provide services to survivors with LEP, and you are at risk of losing federal funding.

Resource building strategies can be recorded in the Language Access Plan Template, Section 1D: Fund Development Needs.