July 30th, 2010
Only two years ago, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City signed an executive order that required every city agency that dealt with the public to “provide interpreters, translated documents, and other language help to people who spoke little or no English.” While this order was set into place not only to provide more interpreter jobs to a highly trained niche, but also to prevent the waste of time and money caused by miscommunication, the program has instead fallen into disarray. Government workers today in the city still fail to offer interpreters and rarely offer forms in multiple languages, a clear violation of the executive order that was meant to make the city more accessible and inclusive.
Interpreters have always been sought after – by the government, multi-national organizations, and non-profit organizations as well. There are very few of us who have that part of the brain that allows us the ability to learn another language fluently. As a result, interpreters are typically few and far between, although this is no excuse for the lack of government accountability in NYC. With lawsuits pending and interpreters nowhere to be found, we have to ask what happened with the executive order that was meant to bring the city to a new level of diversity?
The New York Times chronicles one agency in particular, The Human Resources Administration, which is a “virtual lifeline” to millions of New Yorkers who need the organization for cash assistance, food stamps, and other government care. Some might maintain that because of its size, it is difficult to staff government agencies full of interpreters, especially in such a diverse city such as NYC – dozens of interpreters may be needed to keep up with the continuous influx of immigrants. However, many immigrants are being denied their benefits solely because they cannot understand their caseworkers and the forms they have to fill out, immigrants who speak common languages such as English and Korean. Other agencies are now completely disregarding the mayor’s order and inform their clients that they have to provide their own interpreters, regardless of the cost.
In a city of so many immigrants, it is amazing any of them receive the benefits they are entitled to without the assistance of interpreters readily available. One of the major set-backs in the mayor’s order was the fact that he did not set aside any extra money to ensure that language services were made available for the clients of these agencies. Many staffers now do interpretation jobs on the side through their various non-profit organizations to ensure that their clients receive the aid they need to survive. While the order was set into place with good intentions by the NYC government, it has yet to come to fruition, despite the prevalence of interpreter jobs in the city.