HHS Releases Report to Increase Language Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency

Office for Civil Rights issues report to reduce barriers and increase access to persons with limited English proficiency

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a report summarizing the progress the Department has made on improving the provision of meaningful access to language assistance services to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). The report also identifies steps to continue and strengthen this work across HHS moving forward.

Effective communication is critical in health care and human services, where miscommunication may lead to misdiagnosis, improper or delayed medical treatment, and barriers to necessary services and programs.

“The need for meaningful access to language services continues to grow across America and HHS is taking important action to ensure individuals with limited English proficiency can fully access federal resources and programs,” said Secretary Xavier Becerra. “As a child, I often needed to translate insurance and medical documents for my parents. That is still necessary for many families in this country today, which is why we are working so hard to ensure everyone has access to health care and advance health equity for all people.”

Last week’s report was issued in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which seeks to increase access to government services to address barriers in federal programs and services. This is the first such report HHS has issued since 2016. The report is also in line with Executive Order 14012, Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans, which directed the Federal Government to develop welcoming strategies to promote integration and inclusion and embrace the full participation of the newest Americans, many of whom come with LEP, in our democracy. In addition, earlier this year, OCR relaunched the Department’s Language Access Steering Committee.

“HHS is taking important steps to ensure that people have full and equal access to programs and services across the Department, so that no one is left behind because of the language they speak, or other communications barriers based on ability,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “OCR is committed to guaranteeing that health and human services are inclusive, equitable, accessible, and in compliance with civil rights laws for limited English proficient persons and their families.”

This first annual report summarizes the Department’s progress to date and charts a course to increase meaningful language access across the Department. Recent accomplishments include:

  • OpDivs and StaffDivs have greatly increased the amount of in-language online content;
  • In response to a complaint alleging 19 states failed to provide meaningful access to their COVID testing, inoculation, and treatment programs, OCR is collaborating with the DHS and FEMA to provide technical assistance: and
  • HHS added taglines in multiple languages at the bottom of HHS.gov homepage.

It discusses the need for reducing barriers and increasing language access in the four key areas identified in the Equity Plan:

  • Internet access;
  • Telephone access;
  • Access to programs and activities; and
  • Federal funds to provide needed language services.

The report also maps specific benchmarks and progress to date, including OCR’s collection and analysis of 25 HHS agency and component-level Language Access Plans, and a review of work by the HHS Language Access Steering Committee to assess needed improvements and to share best practices. The report discusses how work will continue in 2023 and beyond, including:

  • The creation of a new HHS Language Access Coordinator position;
  • The setting up of a centralized language access center hub for HHS;
  • Updating and revising HHS’s 2013 Language Access Plan; and
  • Taking steps to address problems identified in OCR investigations of LEP complaints filed against HHS

Read the Report:

Read the Press Release:

HHS is committed to ensuring that all people can access health care and human services free from discrimination. If you believe that you or another person have been discriminated against based on national origin or another protected category, you can file a complaint with OCR at: https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/complaints/index.html.

*People using assistive technology may not be able to fully access information in this file. For assistance, contact the HHS Office for Civil Rights at (800) 368-1019, TDD toll-free: (800) 537-7697, or by emailing [email protected].

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