Take a Lesson from Schools: Translation and Interpreting Often Required by Law

For regular readers of our blogs and newsletters, you know we often highlight the legal regulations that organizations should be aware of when it comes to providing translators bigstock-Law-Icon-Flat cropped 1a2and interpreters for clients/customers. Various federal and state laws are in place to make sure that businesses—especially those receiving government funding—meet basic requirements for providing translation services and interpreter services to people who don’t speak English well or at all (commonly referred to as LEP, or Limited English Proficiency).
Recent cases in Massachusetts underscore our point perfectly.
Two school systems are being investigated by civil rights officials over allegations they failed to translate relevant documents or provide interpreters for LEP parents of special education students. The complaints were filed through the U.S. Department of Education.
Under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, any programs receiving federal financial assistance are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. The Supreme Court has previously confirmed that failing to provide proper translators or interpreters violates the “national origin” aspect of the law.
For the Massachusetts school cases, Civil Rights advocates allege that school officials either did not provide interpreters during parent meetings or they relied on inexperienced staff members who were partially, but not fully, conversant in the languages spoken by the parents.
Unprofessional and untrained interpreters cannot adequately explain sensitive and complex issues—in this case, special education needs. Unqualified interpreting opens the door to misinterpretation, misunderstandings and incomplete messaging. It’s the very thing that the federal requirements were put in place to prevent. The schools were also faulted for failing to translate important documents, like report cards and lesson plans customized to the specific needs of each student.
The issues at the core of the complaints against the school systems are repeated by private companies and non-profit organizations across the country. The schools faced unique language challenges due to the complicated nature and intricacies of special needs education. But the same challenges can be found in most other organizations as well; every industry is confronted with its own set of distinct legal, technical, medical or regulatory issues that at some point must be communicated to customers and clients, regardless of the language they speak. This requires professional, trained translators and interpreters, not friends, family or volunteers who think they can handle the job.
So take a lesson from a real-life, real-time example where failure to know or follow anti-discrimination laws can have costly consequences. The financial penalties that come with being found guilty of a discrimination complaint are not the only negative repercussion. Just as important is the public relations hit that can damage your organization’s reputation.
When it comes to properly providing language services to LEP individuals, we recommend you review your current policies and procedures and make whatever changes are necessary to comply with legislation now on the books. Remember, when it comes to abiding by the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination regulations, it’s not a choice—it’s the law.
We’ve helped many businesses and organizations manage their translation and interpreting needs, and we can do the same for you. Give us a call if you’d like to further discuss how our translation services and interpreter services can assist in keeping you in compliance with federal and state laws.
For more than 30 years, ASIST Translation Services, Inc. has worked with business, government, educational and non-profit clients around the world. We improve foreign language communications through a full menu of translation and interpreting services, including content localization, studio voice recording & audio-visual production, transcreation, proofreading, website content, page layout & design, cultural training, and other specialized language support. To learn more about how we can assist you, visit our LinkedInTwitter or Facebook pages or our Website!