The Language Access Bill: A Personal Perspective

Maia Fuller, Howard University News Service

According to 2015 U.S. Census, 26% of the population (age 5 and above) within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area speak a language other than the English at home.

That means that more than 1/5 of the population’s first language is not the unofficial national language. With such a significant portion of the area’s population speaking languages other than English language accommodations are crucial.

Claudia Barragan, a D.C. resident, has been active within her community as she’s worked for organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and Neighborhood Design Center.

More recently, Barragan has been spearheading the campaign for the Language Access Bill. The bill would require D.C. government to provide equal access, and participation in public services, programs, and activities for residents of the District of Columbia who cannot (or have limited capacity to) speak, read, or write English.

Barragan has been active on social media account detailing the importance of passing the Language Access Bill and how it’ll affect the DC area, Ward 7 in particular.

Barragan, an immigrant from Bolivia, attributes her understanding of the importance of the bill to the fact that she’s been impacted by language access issues.

 “It impacted me back when I was in high school when I was regular public school student. I came here when I was 10, so I had to learn English. Understanding how to ESL [English as a Second Language], having that program helped me so much.”

Barragan’s childhood experiences dealing with language barriers give her insight into how language barriers impact people on a social level.

“Growing up … I always had to translate for my mom. Single mother four kids, I’m the youngest one. So at an early age, I had to call the cable company, I had to call the bills and ask for extensions or being able to help my mom with those sort of things. And that’s traumatic in a way because you’re too young to be able to do that.”

The Language Access Bill would reaffirm the government’s responsibility to offer interpreters free of charge as well as documents in needed language free of charge which would potentially reduce much of the emotional strife those who’re affected by issues involving language barriers like Barragan.

As of right now, the languages that are primarily accommodated with the current language access system are Amharic, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“What we’re seeing in the population shifts for Latino community here in the District … Ward 7 and Ward 8 are seeing a higher percentage of immigrants. There’s a Cameroonian community in Ward 7, a very tight-knit community, but they don’t necessarily participate in issues because it’s not in their language.”

Barragan puts a face to the issue and highlights just how vital the Language Access Bill is.

“Everyone deserves language access, everyone.”