Anchorage’s Language Access Policy Gaps Highlighted
In 2018, the Municipality of Anchorage took a significant step forward by implementing a Language Access Policy and Procedure to ensure compliance with civil rights laws. The purpose was clear: to provide information about municipal services, programs, and activities to residents and visitors with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The policy emphasized the use of readily accessible telephonic language lines and professional face-to-face interpreters, eschewing less effective methods like relying on friends, family, or children for interpretation.
This move was in line with federal regulations, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Presidential Executive Order 13166, which mandates meaningful access to services for those with Limited English Proficiency. The 2018 policy outlined a robust structure of responsibilities, from the Mayor’s Office to frontline employees, with the goal of ensuring language access across all municipal agencies.
Fast forward to 2023, and a closer look to the state of language access in the municipality reveals potential gaps in transparency and accessibility. A recent Google search on the municipality’s website yielded limited information about language access, falling short of providing details about the positions of the Language Access Liaison. While the absence of information doesn’t definitively mean it’s not present, it raises concerns about the accessibility of crucial details related to language access, the complaint process, and the overall adherence to the law. It is possible to access the Language Access Plans of several of the offices of the municipality. Nevertheless, mechanisms for complaints and recent information are not found on the website. This is very concerning.
The 2018 policy outlined clear responsibilities for the Mayor’s Office, the Mayor’s Language Access Liaison, Department Language Access Representatives, Frontline Municipal Departments, Non-Frontline Municipal Departments, and Frontline Employees. It stressed the importance of developing and implementing department-specific Language Access Plans, training frontline employees in language access policies, and allocating funds for language access services.
However, the apparent lack of easily accessible information on the municipality’s website regarding the language access structure, including the positions of Language Access Liaison, brings into question the transparency of the system. Transparency is vital for community members to be aware of their rights, understand the avenues for language access, and have a clear understanding of the complaint process.
The Anchorage Assembly is taking action on this issue. “The Municipality’s Internal Audit Department is currently conducting a first-ever audit of compliance with the Municipal-wide Language Access Policy and Procedure. This audit, which should be published in January of 2024, will show policymakers the work being done by departments to meet language access requirements and give guidance on how to improve our ability to meet this need,” in an interview with Sol de Medianoche News, Assembly Member Felix Rivera said.
In addition, the Assembly recently approved an ordinance which, among other things, requires regular reporting by the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Municipal agency responsible for ensuring compliance of language access requirements. Rivera mentioned this is a positive development. “This reporting will help policymakers to get an annual snapshot of how language access is being used by various departments and if any departments or contractors are failing to meet the language access needs of our community,” Rivera mentioned.
Language access is an imperative necessity for our municipality and every municipality, as it is a right that allows everyone to receive the help and support, they need without the barriers of language getting in the way. Therefore, we will continue monitoring this subject in the coming year.