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New York Fans the Flames of Language Access

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Laws regarding language access — the ability of individuals to obtain services in their native languages – are plentiful throughout the United States, but enforcement has been relatively infrequent. Now, thanks to some savvy folks in New York, language access has potential to spread like wildfire throughout the rest of the country. So what’s going on in the Empire State?

* An administrative complaint. Last year, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest filed a civil rights complaint with the New York State Office of the Attorney General alleging that pharmacies were failing to provide adequate translation and interpretation services to their limited English proficient customers.
* A settlement. The attorney general found that seven chain pharmacies — A&P, Costco, CVS, Duane Reade, Rite-Aid, Target, and Wal-Mart — were not meeting their obligations to provide language services. By April 2009, the pharmacies entered into a settlement agreement and committed to boosting their interpretation services and print translations of the labels in other languages.
* A step above and beyond. In a highly strategic move, Rite-Aid announced that it would make language access possible, not just in New York, but in all of its 4,900 stores across the country. We spoke with Scott Jacobson, Director of Pharmacy Operations at Rite-Aid, to learn more. “We have embraced this as an opportunity,” said Jacobson, “By promoting the services to our associates, patients, and the public, we can reach customers that are not getting their needs met in other stores, and our business will grow among this clientele as a result.” Prior to the complaint, Rite-Aid had a longstanding contract with Language Line Services for telephone interpretation, and the ability to print prescription instructions in 11 different languages.

We talked with Nisha Agarwal, one of the masterminds behind the recent settlement. “While it is first and foremost an issue of civil rights, the settlement also highlights a clear market opportunity for these pharmacies,” she said. The companies that provide linguistically competent services will be able to capture larger market share in a country where 46 million people speak another language at home.

Also, just this week, advocacy group Legal Services NYC filed a lawsuit challenging civil rights violations at Human Resources Administration centers throughout the city. Sound familiar? We predict that we will keep seeing stories like these in the headlines, as more advocacy groups network and master the art of getting people to pay attention to this issue.

According to Agarwal, the word is indeed spreading: “We are seeing requests to provide assistance from advocacy groups in many other states, including Pennsylvania, California, and the District of Columbia,” she noted. Language service providers can help fan the flames to help push these initiatives along. How? Find out in our newest Quick Take, “Top 10 Ways to Accelerate Language Access” — a free download with registration on our website.

And, while state-level actions are increasing, so is federal activity.The proposed health care bill directly discusses the need for language access. Our latest members-only report, “U.S. Health Care Reform and Language Services” analyzes the numerous impacts the new system would have on providers of translation and interpreting services, and the health care organizations that purchase these services.

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