City Council Votes to Increase Language Accessibility

By Alicia Venter

Council Member Sandra Ung proposed two of the introductions to this package. (Photo: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

On Dec. 21, the New York City Council voted on a legislative package to increase language access in the city.

The Language Access Act is designed to strengthen language access for residents and small business owners. The legislation will increase the translation of city documents and materials into commonly spoken languages in the city with limited English proficiency.

This legislative package was introduced to the City Council at a time when the city is seeing an increased number of asylum seekers with the end of Title 42, a public health code that allowed the United States to expel those who crossed the border without authorization due to the risk COVID-19 posed. 

Many of these asylum seekers potentially have limited English proficiency.

Adding onto the Language Access Law — a law passed in 2017 to require city agencies to translate commonly distributed documents into 10 designated languages that are most spoken in the city — Queens Council Member Julie Won sponsored Introduction 136-B and Introduction 700-A.

“As our city continues to welcome thousands of new migrants and refugees with the end of Title 42, it’s critical to provide culturally competent language translations and interpretation services to our new neighbors,” Won said in a statement. 

If signed by Mayor Eric Adams, Introduction 136-B would require agencies designated by the mayor to conduct a survey of community-based organizations which would assess their capacity to provide translation, interpretation and other language services.

Introduction 700-A would require any city agencies that provide direct or emergency services to translate commonly distributed documents that relate to the enforcement of local laws. This direct expansion of the Language Access Law’s translation policy, these documents would need to be translated into each of the ten designated citywide languages spoken by New Yorkers with limited English proficiency.

The legislative package also includes the additions of Introduction 697-A and Introduction 699-A, introduced by Queens Council Member Sandra Ung.

Introduction 697-A would require the Office of the Language Services Coordinator, when informed of an event that is likely to cause a significant number of individuals to come into the City, to identify the primary languages spoken by those individuals and list such languages online. Such events could include a natural disaster or a conflict.

Introduction 699-A would require the Business Owners Bill of Rights and the Food Service Establishment Code of Conduct to be translated to additional languages. They also would include information about language access services provided in the city and would require city agencies that regularly conduct inspections to report annually on the number of bilingual inspectors they employ. It also would require the Hearings Division of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to provide small business owners with translations of written decisions when requested.

Finally, Introduction 382-A, sponsored by Manhattan Council Member Gale Brewer, would provide in-language guidance to small business owners who receive a settlement offer from the City after being charged with a violation of the Administrative Code or the City Rules.