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Washington State Coalition For Language Access

Examples of Language Access Barriers

(1) A Monolingual Spanish-speaking woman called 911 on a Friday morning. She was not able to speak to the operator because of the lack of language and eventually hung up. However, two non-Spanish-speaking officers did show up at the apartment where she and her husband were living with their two children and extended family. The family woke up a 17-year-old nephew sleeping on the couch to act as the interpreter. Officers did not arrest the husband. After they left, the woman went to the Mexican Consulate seeking help. The Consulate told her about getting an Order for Protection. The woman, accompanied by her relatives, went to the Courthouse where she filed a Petition for an Order for Protection with the assistance of the court facilitators. By the time she completed the paperwork, it was too late for the Commissioner to hear the case. The woman was told to return on Monday. The husband killed her on Sunday morning, at the family home, while the rest of the family was in the apartment, including the children.

(2) A woman was ill. The medical facility where she sought services did not provide her with an interpreter. She could not speak English and repeatedly attempted to tell the doctor and nurses her symptoms without proper translation. The hospital ended up treating the patient for the wrong illness. As a result, the patient died.

(3) There are systemic problems in some family courts. In one particular county they have instituted orientations for family law actions where they explain the process to unrepresented clients. They also offer an opportunity to start mediating and taking parenting classes. They did not consider LEP issues when they set up that system. Their response has been to get an untrained court employee to come in to do the interpretation for them because this is technically not a judicial proceeding. When attorneys advocated for changes, the response was that they would send a clerk to Spanish classes. Eventually, the court decided to waive the requirement of LEP clients participating in the orientation.

(4) A woman staying in a local shelter was treated disrespectfully. The client was deemed uncooperative because she was unaware of the rules. The client had not eaten anything because she did not know what she could eat from the common areas because the shelter had not provided an interpreter to her. The client did not receive the same level of support as other clients. The client's purse was stolen and the shelter did not provide any assistance with filing a police report but told her to file it on her own. The shelter failed to provide interpretation for many of their conversations with her.

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