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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Event

Immigrant Groups Win Citywide Language Access Executive Order in New York City


More than a decade of direct actions, legal work, research, community
organizing, and coalition work have culminated in a major civil rights victory
for millions of New Yorkers!

On July 22, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn
announced an Executive Order that ensures that all New Yorkers will have
meaningful access to all city government programs and services, regardless of
their English ability.

As a result, when New Yorkers go into any city government office, they’ll be
able to get important forms and information in at least six languages and get
help in their language when they need it.

Visit to watch the signing ceremony and read about this victory in the Daily News
and the New York Times!

This Executive Order is the first in the nation to comprehensively address one
of the most pervasive barriers preventing immigrants from receiving services,
participating in programs, or interacting with government. It’s a commitment to
ensuring equal access and equal rights for the nearly two million New Yorkers
who are still learning English.  

This landmark victory was made possible by the collective work and support of
dozens of organizations and funders over the years, on a variety of fronts,
including housing, education, health, and public benefits. Overcoming language
barriers was the goal we all shared. This victory is testament to what we can
accomplish by working together.


Under the provisions of
the Order, ALL city government agencies will:

  • Translate
    essential public documents and forms into the top six languages spoken in New York City;
  • Provide
    interpretation services in at least the top six languages spoken in New York City;
  • Post
    visible signs about the rights to interpretation and translation in all
    agency offices;
  • Designate
    a language access coordinator and develop plans for complying with this
    Executive Order in the coming months; and
  • Convey
    information in their materials using plain, nontechnical language.  

importantly, implementation and compliance oversight is placed under the
Mayor’s Office of Operations. Progress-or lack thereof-in implementing the
Executive Order will be reflected in the annual Mayor’s Management Report,
which serves as a public report card on city agencies.


For over ten years, immigrant community members and advocates laid the
groundwork for this landmark victory by continually drawing public attention to
the need for language access at public agencies, public and private hospitals,
and pharmacies.

In 1999, Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition filed a federal civil rights
complaint against the City of New York
for its failure to provide language access in the welfare system. We won this
civil rights complaint, and a subsequent federal lawsuit on this issue, Ramirez
v. Giuliani

We organized dozens of direct actions in the ensuing years, including a thousand-person
march over the Brooklyn
Bridge to deliver letters
to City Hall. With our partner organizations, we monitored New York City’s
Medicaid offices, public benefits offices, and public hospitals; we worked with
the city and state to hold public hearings and conduct public investigations of
communication barriers in Medicaid offices and hospitals; we drew media
attention to the need for city agencies to improve communication with
limited-English-proficient New Yorkers; and we never backed down.

As a result, in 2003, Local Law 78 was signed into law, requiring language
access at the Human Resources Administration and ensuring equal access to vital
government benefits like Medicaid, Food Stamps and public assistance. And in
2006, after a multi-year campaign that included monitoring of hospitals, filing
civil rights complaints, and putting pressure on legislators and industry
groups, we won new state regulations requiring hospitals to provide
interpreters to patients with limited English.  

Inspired by those victories, immigrant parents stood up and said that in order
for our children to succeed, parents need to be able to read report cards and
communicate with teachers. Immigrant parents delivered hundreds of report
cards, written only in English, to the Department of Education, requesting
translation.  In 2006, after two years of legislative campaigns,
petitions, press conferences and surveys, we secured a Chancellor’s Regulation
guaranteeing language access in the city’s school system.

Next, a coalition of organizations came together to tackle language access in
the city’s housing agency. Our coalition worked with the City Council to draft
Intro 596, the Equal Access to Housing Services Act. Since its introduction in
2006, Intro 596 has built momentum toward a citywide language access policy.

These successes were possible in part because of relentless monitoring,
research and publication of numerous reports documenting the need for language
access in various settings. Links to many of these groundbreaking reports can
be found at the bottom of this email. 


The Executive Order has implications far beyond New York City. By signing it, Mayor Bloomberg
demonstrates New York City’s
exceptional leadership in enhancing customer service for all city residents,
fighting national origin discrimination, and promoting civil rights. On the
policy level, we hope that the comprehensive framework and language of the
Executive Order will serve as a model for other localities pursuing similarly
proactive policies. Politically, as the battles over immigration policy and the
very principles that define our country continue around us, New York City is making a powerful statement:
we are a city that welcomes and serves all New Yorkers.

¡Si se puede!


This victory was possible because of the hard work and dedication of the
following groups who worked with us on language access:

Groups working on
housing language access:

Asian Americans for
El Centro del
CAAAV: Organizing
Asian Communities
Neighbors Helping
Urban Justice

Groups working on education language access:
Advocates for
Asian Americans for
Chinese Progressive
Coalition for Asian
American Children and Families
Committee for
Hispanic Children and Families
Development Inc.
El Centro de la
United for Progress
Latin American
Integration Center
Russian-American Parents Association
South Asian Youth
YWCA Flushing

Groups working on health and public-benefits language access:
Family Support Center
United for Progress
Korean Community
The Legal Aid
Legal Services for
New York City
New York Legal
Assistance Group
New York Lawyers
for the Public Interest
Reconciliation and
Culture Cooperative Network
Shorefront YM-YWHA
of Brighton-Manhattan Beach

Published Reports
on Language Access (by various authors):

Now We’re Talking [2008]
Bad Medicine [2007]
School Year Filled With
Missed Communication
Hear This! [2006]
Lost in Translation II [2005]

Breaking the Barrier [2004]
Silenced Partners [2004]
Language Access to
Health Care
Medicaid Emergency [2003]
Lost in Translation I [2001]

Policy or Pretense [1999]