Language access makes it possible for individuals and the businesses or organizations they interact with to communicate when they don’t speak the same language. In some cases, such as with certain federal agencies, language access is actually a legal requirement. Even if language access isn’t required by law, businesses can benefit financially and can improve their customer service efforts and brand reputation by turning to translation services to improve language access for their customers.
Let’s take a closer look at what language access is, why it matters, and how much of the U.S. population it can affect.
What is Language Access?
Language access is an important aspect of accessibility for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). The term language access refers to the ability of individuals to communicate effectively and access information, services, and opportunities in their preferred language. Similar to how certain accommodations must be made for those with physical disabilities (such as businesses having wheelchair ramps), language access is a key element to building an inclusive society.
Why is Language Access important?
Language access can help ensure that LEP individuals have equal access to services and opportunities, all while reducing barriers and promoting inclusivity. This can be especially important in situations where individuals rely on services for essential needs, such as healthcare, education, or legal assistance.
For example, medical patients need to be able to communicate with their medical care team in a language they fully understand. That way, there is no confusion around a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription. Not being able to fully understand medical care can lead to dangerous results. Even medical records and insurance claims can benefit from embracing language access.
Understanding LEP in the US
To better understand why language access matters, it’s important to have context surrounding just how many people this affects in the U.S.
LEP individuals don’t speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 21 percent of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English, and of that percentage more than 40 percent speak English less than “very well.”
It’s easy to see how a large amount of the U.S. population could lose equal access to vital education, legal, or healthcare services due to language barriers.
It is important for organizations and businesses to be aware of the language needs of their customers and clients and to take steps to provide language access when necessary. This can involve providing interpretation services, offering materials in multiple languages, or hiring staff who speak multiple languages. Hiring professional translators to translate content can help improve language access across a wide variety of industries. You can work with a highly specialized translation company to ensure you’re providing clear and correct content to LEP individuals.