Making Justice RealThe Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Clients Experience Language Barriers At OAH
On Friday March 19, the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary of the District of Columbia Council held its performance oversight hearing on the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). OAH is the central panel administrative tribunal for the District and hears a broad range of cases, including those related to public benefits, housing, and the Homeless Services Reform Act.
I testified about the language barriers that Legal Aid’s clients have faced at OAH. We have been concerned about OAH’s reliance on telephonic interpreter services for hearings, its failure to translate important documents for limited English proficient individuals, and the problems our clients have had communicating with OAH staff both in person and on the phone. We also raised questions about OAH’s liability under the DC Language Access Act of 2004, as the agency had long denied being covered by the Act.
I was encouraged to hear testimony from Chief Judge Walker about her plans to transition to in-person interpretation for hearings and her acknowledgement that OAH is, indeed, covered by the DC Language Access Act. This is great news for LEP litigants, and we look forward to seeing positive changes in OAH’s delivery of language services in the coming year.