Introduction – Limited English Proficiency and Meaningful Access
Most individuals living in the United States read, write, speak, and understand English. There are many people, however, for whom English is not their primary language. If these individuals have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English, they have limited English proficiency or “LEP” (here, “LEP persons”). Language for LEP persons can be a barrier to accessing important benefits or services, understanding and exercising important rights, or complying with applicable responsibilities.
The Maine Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”) provides meaningful access to its programs and services for LEP persons. It is our policy to remove barriers to accessing our services which are caused by a person’s limited English proficiency.
To further our understanding in this area, the Commission has conducted an individualized assessment balancing the following four factors: (1) the number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered; (2) the frequency with which LEP persons come in contact with the Commission; (3) the nature and importance of the Commission’s program, activity, or service; and (4) the Commission’s available resources. The assessment’s results are attached as Appendix A. The Commission has developed and implemented this Plan to address the identified needs of LEP populations served by the Commission.
Identifying LEP Individuals Who Need Language Assistance
In order to provide meaningful access to LEP persons, the Commission must first identify those who need language assistance. Commission staff may identify people who are LEP persons through communication in written, telephonic or face-to-face form.
- In person. The Commission has posted an I Speak poster in its reception area, which is an effective tool for an LEP person to communicate the language the person speaks. Commission staff will direct people to the I Speak poster when it is apparent that they are having difficulty speaking or understanding English. The staff member will then utilize the language services described in this Plan. For persons speaking in American Sign Language (“ASL”), this symbol may be used:
- In writing. If a staff member receives a written communication in a foreign language, the staff member will contact the Executive Director to determine the best way to proceed.
- Telephone. If a staff member receives a telephone call from a person who speaks a foreign language or ASL, or has a speech or language disability, and is having difficulty communicating in English, the staff member will use a telephone interpreting service described below.
- Record keeping. When staffers are likely to have repeated contacts with a person who is LEP (e.g., ongoing intake or complaint investigation), staffers will make appropriate notations in the paper and electronic files identifying the person as LEP, indicating the language spoken, and listing the language assistance tools requested and utilized.
Oral Language Assistance – Interpreting
Interpretation is the act of listening to something in one language and verbally translating it into another language. In the case of ASL, interpretation is the act of viewing language in sign language and verbally translating it into another language. In the case of certain hearing or speech disabilities, interpreters or facilitators can assist a person with effective communication. The Commission offers language interpreting services to all persons with LEP at no cost to the person with LEP.
- Commission staff will offer an interpreter as soon as it is apparent that a person has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English. An LEP person who is a companion of a person seeking services from the Commission may also request interpreting assistance.
- Interpreters will be scheduled as quickly as possible.
- Any staff member making the determination that an interpreter is needed may make the arrangements.
- All requests for interpreters, written or oral, will be documented in the appropriate paper and electronic files.
Commission staff will ensure that each interpreter:
Is proficient (or, in the case of ASL interpreters, properly licensed) in communicating information accurately in both English and in the other language and using the appropriate mode of interpreting (i.e. consecutive, simultaneous, summarization and site translation);
Has knowledge in both languages of any specialized terms used in connection with Commission’s programs, services, and activities;
Understands and complies with the Commission’s confidentiality requirements;
Conducts herself or himself impartially; and
Understands and adheres to her or his role as interpreter without deviating into the role of counselor, legal advisor, or other role.
If staff will be discussing documents with a person with LEP, they will give the interpreter adequate opportunity to review the documents prior to the discussion, and any questions about the documents will be addressed. Staff will discuss any specialized terms with the interpreter.
- The following types of oral interpreting services will be used:
Telephone Interpreter Services
- Foreign Language Interpreting. The State has signed a contract with AT&T for the Language Line interpreting service. This service offers “over-the-phone” interpretation, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, in more than 140 languages. There is a per-minute charge for use of the line. The Language Line is the preferred foreign language interpreting service, but Appendix C lists alternative options as well.
- Interpreters for hearing or speech disabilities through ASL, transliteration, cued speech or another communication method:
- For telephone calls only, via Relay Service. The federal and state governments have established free Relay services to provide persons with communication disabilities access to landline phone service. This service can be accessed by dialing 711 or via the internet. It provides persons with hearing or speech disabilities with access to communication supports or ASL interpreters.
- For in-person visits, it may be possible to use video remote interpreting (“VRI”) rather than an in-person interpreter. Please see the Executive Director to discuss this option.
- Commission staff will use either the Language Line or Relay Service as follows:
- When it is not possible to communicate effectively with a person on the telephone or when the caller requests an interpreter;
- To identify the language being spoken by an individual if you are not able to do so in another fashion;
- If staff interpreters are not present and face-to-face interpreters are not available (but not for ASL, when video remote interpreting may be used); and
- In order to communicate that an appointment will be set up and an interpreter provided.
Attached as Appendix B is the Language Line Quick Reference Guide. Staff will keep a copy of this near their phone and will utilize it when using telephone interpreting. Staff will need to use a speaker phone for in-person contacts and one with conference call capabilities for phone calls. Staff will be familiar with the speaker and conference call feature of their phones.
The Commission does not currently employ staff interpreters. Because of the infrequent contact with persons with LEP, the Commission has not targeted interpreters in its hiring practices (e.g. hiring staff interpreters or preference for interpreters when hiring in other positions). The Commission will continue to monitor changes in the LEP population in the State and assess the need to target interpreters in its hiring practices or hire staff interpreters. The Commission does employ an Investigator who is fluent in Spanish. That Investigator will be utilized by the Commission to communicate with constituents who are LEP who speak Spanish, but the Investigator will not act as an interpreter. Staff members will consult with the Executive Director about the appropriate way to involve the Investigator with people who speak Spanish and are LEP.
Face-to-Face Contract Interpreters
An in-person, face-to-face interpreter will be provided by the Commission when an in-person meeting with a person who is LEP is scheduled. Staff will obtain prior approval from the Executive Director for face-to-face interpreter services.
To arrange a face-to-face interpreter, staff will contact one of the agencies or interpreters listed in Appendix C and make the necessary arrangements. For ASL interpreters, staff must use one of the agencies listed in Appendix C. If using a foreign language interpreter not listed in Appendix C, staff will ask the interpreter to submit a copy of her or his credentials. Staff will document all attempts to make arrangements in the appropriate file and use the Interpreter/Translator Requests Documentation Form, attached as Appendix D. For Commission meetings involving a party who is LEP, staff will make the appropriate arrangements for a face-to-face interpreter to be present.
Staff will notify the Personnel Specialist (currently Melody Piper) of the estimated expenditure for all interpreters. (A copy of the letter verifying the arrangement is usually sufficient.) In doing so, staff will find out how long the individual(s) plans to attend, allowing for travel time both ways. NOTE: Payment is required by law to be processed within 10 days of receipt of invoice. Staff will also be sure that all interpreters are on the State of Maine vendor file (vendor code is noted next to the names in Appendix C). If not, the Vendor must complete a current Vendor Form and submit it to the Personnel Specialist for processing in AdvantageME before an invoice can be processed for payment. (Forms are available on-line at: http://www.maine.gov/osc/accounting/vendor.htm.) Some agencies/interpreters require a contract or purchase order. If so, staff will see Personnel Specialist for assistance.
The Commission discourages the use of family members (particularly children), friends, and other informal interpreters to interpret for persons with LEP. In certain circumstances these individuals may not be competent, and issues of confidentiality, privacy, or conflict of interest may arise. Nevertheless, if a person with LEP requests that she or he be permitted to use an informal interpreter after the Commission has offered a free, professional interpreter, the Commission will respect the person’s wishes and allow it, except that a minor child may not be used to interpret other than in an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. The offer of a free, professional interpreter will be documented in the paper and electronic file. Depending on the circumstances, even if an informal interpreter is used, staff may nevertheless choose to have a professional interpreter present, such as to protect the Commission’s interests. If unsure, staff will consult with the Executive Director.
Written Language Assistance – Translation
Translation is the act of converting written text in one language (source language) into the equivalent written text in another language (target language). In the past, the Commission has lacked the resources to translate documents into foreign languages, other than its sexual harassment poster, which has been translated into Spanish. Nevertheless, the Commission will translate vital documents upon request by any person with LEP at no cost to the person with LEP. Oral language and ASL interpreters are also provided free of charge to any LEP client who needs assistance interpreting any document provided by the Commission.
The Commission uses Google Translate on its website to allow users to translate any page or document on the site a foreign language, including Spanish and French. The Commission recognizes that Google Translate does not always provide accurate translations. The Commission provides the following notice on its website: “If you are having difficulty reading the contents of this website, and would like a document interpreted from English to another language (including American Sign Language) or provided in an accessible format, please contact us at (207) 624-6290 to request interpreting, translation or accommodations.” The Commission will provide this notice in Spanish, French, and Somali, which are the languages of the Commission’s most frequently encountered LEP groups.
The Commission will also seek funding to translate its vital documents into Spanish and French, the two languages spoken by groups of LEP people in Maine that exceed 1000 people (see Appendix A). To determine which documents are vital, the Commission has considered the importance of the program, information or service involved and the consequence to the person with LEP if the information is not provided accurately or in a timely manner. The Commission has also considered that awareness of rights or services is an important part of “meaningful access.” The following documents have been identified as vital:
- After a Complaint Has Been Filed with the MHRC (website page) EN FR SP
- Instructions for Intake Form (website page and printable form)
- General Intake Form (website page and printable form)
- Housing Intake Form (website page and printable form)
- Dismissal letters notifying complainants of their right to file a complaint in court
- Fair Housing Overview (website page and poster)
- Important Information Regarding Your Fair Housing Rights Under State and Federal Law
- Maine Human Rights Act Guarantees (website page and poster)
- Sexual Harassment Overview (website page and poster)
- Frequently Asked Questions (website page)
- What it is! How it Works! (website page)
- Contact Us (website page)
- Visitor Information (website page)
The Commission will seek funding to translate these documents into Spanish and French. In selecting translators, the Commission will bear in mind that the skill of translating is different than the skill of interpreting. Nevertheless, like interpreters, translators must be competent. Competency does not necessarily mean formal certification as a translator, but certification is preferable. If a translator is not certified, membership in a professional translation association may be another indicator of competence.
Commission staff will be trained in this Plan as a part of their new employee orientation, on at least an annual basis, and after substantive changes.
Notice to LEP Persons and Monitoring
In order to ensure that LEP persons know that the language services described in this Plan are available, the Commission will post notices on its website and in its lobby in the five most common languages that free language assistance is available.
The Commission will continue to explore and implement other outreach efforts and will keep staff informed.
The Commission will continue to monitor its LEP services in light of state and federal requirements, changes to the Commission’s documents and procedures, changes to the composition of the State’s LEP population, and the effectiveness of its language translation services. This Plan will be updated periodically based on the Commission’s findings.