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The Role of Advocates

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Language accessibility is not a recent development. Although laws around language access were enacted six decades ago, a decisive force has been the work of advocacy groups. The world and demographics have shifted but legislations have not changed much since the 60s. Lawsuits and complaint filings have raised the issue of language justice as well as shaped and provided clarity for both LEPs and publicly funded entities on the issue. Advocacy groups defending the civil rights of linguistic minorities have contributed to the amendment of existing laws, exerted political pressure, and actively engaged communities to raise awareness of the rights to which they are entitled. For example, the Center for Participatory Change created a Language Justice Curriculum3 that can be used by organizations to create multilingual spaces where LEPs can fully participate. The grassroots advocacy led to actions at the state level.

In 2019, California invested over $100 million, the largest amount in state history for census outreach efforts. The CA Census Office developed a groundbreaking language access plan. Initially, the State was to require subcontracting Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to provide language access in the top six languages spoken for each county/region. The limitation of a one-size-fits-all approach is that some metropolitan areas’ overall share of LEP populations excluded was equivalent to the entire population of some smaller counties in rural or Northern California. Los Angeles county could skew the thresholds for the entire state due to its density. The end result was a methodology that consisted of the median number of only the LEP population in the state, a number/percentage threshold, and a Safe Harbor. A safe harbor is provision to safeguard smaller linguistic groups who do not meet the standard percentage or numeric threshold, it is a fixed number (i.e., 1,000 Mien speakers minimum).

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