Do you know what “LEP,” stands for? If you don’t, you are about to be cured. Let me explain: “LEP” stands for Limited English Proficiency. This term identifies a group of citizens, or aliens (non-citizens) who have a limited ability to speak English, typically because English is not their first language.

The American government, under Bill Clinton’s presidency enacted a law, the Executive Order 13166 in the year 2000 to assist the LEP population in America. The order was made as an amendment to Title VI of the Civil Rights act of 1964. This law states that people who fall into the LEP category should have meaningful access to federally funded programs and activities in order to have equal services to those who do speak English. For many, this simply means understanding what is conveyed, whether it be spoken or written.

The Executive Order 13166 is titled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.” Outlined, each agency or federal institution implementing this law received instruction to see where improvements to services for LEPs could be developed and to implement those necessary services. The caveat is that the services do not detract from the overall mission of the agency. Since the law’s enactment, many establishments have instituted these programs successfully.

The Executive Order 13166 primarily manifests itself through government funded programs. The programs come in all shapes and sizes: some are basic instruction of the English language, while others are the provision of document translations, interpreters, bilingual staff and educational services.

Within the scope of document translations, one might ask, how do you assess which documents need to be provided for LEP persons? LEP individuals are afforded access to “vital” documents. These include documents containing information that is critical for obtaining federal services and / or benefits, or documents that are required to be read by law.

For example, “vital” documents could be applications, consent and complaint forms, notices of rights, and disciplinary action. “Vital” documents can also be notices of advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance, prison rulebooks, written tests that assess competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which English competency is not required, and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client.

Non vital information includes documents that are not critical to access, such as benefits and services. For example, an advertisement of a federal agency tour, or a copy of a testimony presented to Congress, which serve informational purposes are considered non-vital.

The decision for documents to be translated into certain languages over others is based upon the percentage, or direct number of the population to be served. Remember, the services have to be financially viable. For example, if there is one Tagalog speaker (the Philippine national language) and five Spanish speakers among the group of LEPs at a certain organization or within a certain community, your guess is correct in that the documents will be translated into Spanish and not Tagalog. The decision to provide one language over another takes into account the overall efficacy of the program given the allotted resources.

One of the most important interactions that LEP individuals experience are court interactions, because decisions made in court often affect LEP individuals in a big way. Think of immigration laws that apply to this scenario. Court interactions are additionally important for LEP individuals as decisions are made regarding their human or civil rights.

Programs afforded LEP communities are beneficial on two accounts. First, as the LEP population interacts with one another via government funded programs; they have a higher chance of connecting with those who share their respective language or ethnicity. When I conducted my thesis on refugees’ transitions to America, I learned that refugees and immigrants experience isolation. One remedy to this traumatic side effect—and one of the most effective ways to ensure a smooth transition—is to interact with others who speak their language or others of the same ethnicity and culture.

Second, LEPs who attend programs which were created for the purpose of their understanding are also going to gain a broadened awareness of English and hopefully begin learning to use it on their own. The hope is that LEPs will eventually outgrow the need to attend these programs, or outgrow their LEP status, altogether; and further LEP individuals’ knowledge of English.

What defines an LEP programs’ success? One might ask. Good question. The programs’ assessments are based upon four criteria. The first criterion is the number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program. Second, the program is assessed on the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program. Third, the program is assessed on their nature and contribution to people’s lives. Fourth and finally, the program is assessed on the resources available to the agency and the cost associated with its provision.

The criteria reflects again the overall mission of ensuring that LEP persons have meaningful access to critical translation services while not imposing unnecessary burdens to the small business or nonprofit institution in which they are launched.

The Department of Justice indicates that charging LEP persons for an interpreter, or neglecting to provide a translator can in some cases, be seen as national origin discrimination. One interesting implementation of this order is seen within the Police Department, where policemen use flashcards to depict images of pertinent words. These picture cards are not a substitute for a live interpreter; however, they provide a quick and ready solution to pending linguistic barriers, while awaiting the arrival of an interpreter or a competent bilingual staffer. This tool comes in handy, especially when police officers are attempting to extract information from an LEP witness at the scene of an accident, or crime.

On that note, officers using these cards need to ensure that they are neither leading the witness on, nor limiting the witness or victim to make choices that are not what the individual would have actually communicated, had there not been a language barrier. Finally, the Department of Justice strongly advises that all translations be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that the translation was properly and fully conveyed. The review of the translation helps ensure that any errors do not hinder the investigation, put prosecutions at risk, or create confusion and misidentification.

The LEP community directly affects the translation industry as organizations or institutions hosting LEP programs need language services. Moreover, when organizations and institutions hosting LEP programs receive direct government funding, often there are stipulations associated with the funds that require employing certified linguistic services, or certified language service providers.

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