On April 21, 2004, the Language Access Act (LAA) was signed into law. The central purpose of the LAA is to provide equal access and participation to public services, programs and activities for residents of the District of Columbia who are Limited or Non-English proficient.
Since then, OLA's Language Access and Advocacy Program (LAAP) has provided technical support to DC government agencies covered by the law. By doing so, OLA has advocated to ensure that culturally and linguistically competent city services are delivered to the Spanish-speaking residents of the District.
OLA has also proactively collaborated with the Office of Human Rights (OHR), broadened its working relationship with the Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (OAPIA), and initiated a working relationship with the Office on African Affairs (OAA)—created in 2006, and staffed in 2007—to improve the level of coordination and sharing of knowledge among DC government offices charged with monitoring the implementation of the Act.
A product of this growing inter-office partnership has been the development and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that delineates how each OHR, OLA, OAPIA, and now OAA will cooperate and consult on fundamental issues relevant to the effective implementation of the Act.
Latinos represent the largest population of individuals with Limited or non-English Proficiency living and working in the District, and are the largest group affected by how well DC government delivers on the promises of the new law. These promises include the translation of vital documents, the availability of oral language services, the hiring of bilingual public contact personnel, the training of DC employees in multicultural awareness, and the outreach efforts tailored to limited-English proficient members of our nation's capital.
The Act requires District agencies or "covered entities with major public contact” to establish and implement a Biennial Language Access Plan and designate a Language Access Coordinator. Also, it mandates that the Office of Human Rights, in collaboration and consultation with the Office on Latino Affairs, the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, and the Office on African Affairs assist and monitor DC government agencies, programs, and services in complying with the LAA.
The Act requires District agencies or “covered entities with major public contact” to establish and implement a Biannual Language Access Plan and designate a Language Access Coordinator. Also, it mandates the Office of Human Rights, in collaboration and consultation with the Office on Latino Affairs and the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, to assist and monitor DC government agencies, programs, and services in complying with the LAA.
The Act expressly cites that it applies on its effective date to:
- Department of Health (DOH)
- Department of Human Service (DHS)
- Department of Employment Services (DOES)
- Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)
- DC Public Schools (DCPS)
- Office of Planning (OP)
- Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DCFEMS)
- Office of Human Rights (OHR)
The LAA shall also apply as of October 1, 2004, to:
- Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
- Department of Mental Health (DMH)
- Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)
- Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA)
- Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)
The Language Access Act shall accordingly apply as of October 1, 2005, to:
- Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)
- Office on Aging (DCOA)
- District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL)
- Department of Human Resources (DCHR)
- Office of Contracting and Procurement (OCP)
- Department of Corrections (DOC)
- Department of Public Works (DPW)
- Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR)
The Language Access Act shall accordingly apply as of October 1, 2006, to:
- DC Housing Authority (DCHA)
- Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC)
- Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA)
- And to all covered entities
Additionally, it was established that the Act shall apply as of October 1, 2006 to all DC government agencies or “covered entities,” including DC Courts, and with the exception of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
From OLA's perspective, LAA is about providing LEP/NEP residents with equal access to local government services. After all, the Act stipulates that having access means to be informed of, participate in, and benefit from public services, programs, and activities offered by a covered entity at a level equal to English proficient individuals.
Language Access Resources from OHR:
- FY2013 OLA Report on “Accessing and Providing: Frontline Voices on Language Access" (Full Report)
- FY2013 OLA Report on “Accessing and Providing: Frontline Voices on Language Access” (Abridged Report)
- Hoja Infomativa de la Ley de Acceso Lingüístico [Español]
- Language Access Law Fact Sheet
- Language Access Law of 2004
- Ley de Acceso Lingüístico del 2004 [Español]