Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s order that city
agencies provide translations for the six most spoken languages means
immigrants won’t have to rely on English-speaking children to translate complex
government forms, supporters said yesterday.
"From now on, New Yorkers with limited proficiency in English will be able
to approach the city with confidence, knowing that they [will] have a system in
place to respond to their needs," said Bloomberg, who is learning Spanish.
After Bloomberg signed the order yesterday, it became the city’s first uniform
policy requiring agencies to provide translation or interpretations for
Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and French Creole.
According to 2006 census figures, more than 3.6 million, or 45 percent of New
Yorkers claimed a first language other than English. About 1.8 million have
limited English proficiency, city officials said.
Many immigrants often depend on their children or relatives to help make sense
of job applications, transportation schedules or school enrollment forms, said Yorelis Vidal,
senior organizer of Make
the Road New York, a nonprofit that supports social reform.
But not now, she said, adding "a more fair and accessible city can
transform the world."
Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said the measure was a long time coming. In
2003, he sponsored local law 73, which mandated language services in city
agencies providing health and social services. In December 2007, a report by
the Legal Services for
showed 66 percent of the city’s human resources offices failed to translate
applications in any of the six most commonly used languages.
"While the administration’s lackluster implementation of local law 73 has
been a cause for alarm for many advocates, today’s announcement is a natural
progression toward equal access and civil rights for all New Yorkers," Liu
The order took effect immediately for every citywide agency. In the next 45
days, each agency must craft a policy on translation and interpretation
services. By Jan. 1, agencies must be prepared to help non-English speaking
residents seeking services.
Some city services, like 311, the all-city information hotline, can already
handle callers who speak 170 different languages. For that many spoken
languages, the hotline uses a hired service of interpreters. Those interpreters
will also be on hand to help city agencies that encounter residents speaking a
language other than the six.
"If you speak a language that we don’t happen to have somebody accessible
at that point in time or ever, we will get the service on the phone,"