The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has sounded a wake-up call to local governments that advocates say shows the pressing need to be able to communicate with non-English-speaking residents.
Theo Oshiro, deputy director of “Make the Road New York,” credits Suffolk County with taking the lead in issuing an executive order this week. When emergency information is issued in future storms, Suffolk will include translations in a half-dozen languages that are most common to non-English-speaking residents.
“In any emergency situation, government needs to be able to communicate with the residents. Superstorm Sandy was an extreme example of that, but really the storm did shine a light on the need for these services.”
As many as one in 10 Suffolk County residents are not proficient in English.
Oshiro says the county is the first to follow the lead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is ordering similar rules for state agencies.
Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Schneider called these translation and interpretation services a basic civil right, and says federal grants should cover the cost.
“We’ll provide services to residents in Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Polish, French Creole and Portuguese. These are the top six languages which Suffolk County limited-English-proficient residents speak.”
Cheryl Keshner, coordinator at Long Island Language Advocates Coalition applauds the order, and says the new administration is beginning to make up for years of bad practices.
“Many of us have been advocates for many years, and we have found that the language services have made it difficult, if not impossible, for community residents to report a crime to the Suffolk County Police Department, thus putting crime victims and their neighbors in further danger.”
County Executive Steve Bellone has set a one-year deadline to provide these new services.
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