Written by Jen Hatton

Mar 28


DC Language Access Act Should Extend Its Protections to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

Jennifer Hatton

Jennifer Hatton, Staff Attorney

As we have previously discussed on this blog, one of Legal Aid’s priorities is working to enhance the District’s compliance with the Language Access Act in order to ensure that each resident of the District, regardless of the language that the person speaks, is able to access public services. Consistent with this priority, I recently testified before the DC Council’s Committees on Government Operations and Human Services regarding the Effective Interpretation for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Amendment Act. The bill seeks to impose rigorous certification requirements on sign language interpreters and expand the pool of interpreters that the District uses. In addition, the bill also amends the Language Access Act (LAA) to extend the protections of the LAA to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. I testified in support of including the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the LAA and recommended that the Council take this opportunity to strengthen the LAA by creating a private right of action and judicial review of administrative decisions.

May 11


Increased Funding Needed for Language Access Coordination in the District

Many of Legal Aid’s clients who rely on Medicaid1 or the DC Healthcare Alliance2 for health care don’t speak English well.  Our limited English proficient (LEP) clients rely on interpreters to communicate with their doctors and access their health insurance benefits.  These language services not only enhance the quality of care that individuals receive, but they serve important public health interests as well.  Not to mention that local and federal law require that these language services be provided.

This week Legal Aid testified before the Health Committee of the DC Council about the Mayor’s proposed budget for the Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), the District agency that administers Medicaid and the Alliance and also submitted written testimony in follow-up.  We are concerned about the proposed cut to DHCF’s budget for language services.  While a cut of $14,000 may not seem like much in the midst of the District’s budget crisis, the cut perpetuates the alarming trend of diminishing resources that were already drastically low.

Changes to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the passage of health reform, for example, will mean an even higher demand for language access coordination as more immigrants will now qualify for Medicaid or CHIP coverage.  This transition will save the District money by bringing in more federal health care dollars, but the savings will depend on effective outreach to the affected communities.

DHCF has one of the largest budgets in the District because it has enormous responsibilities and serves over 200,000 District residents.  To devote less than one full-time equivalent for language services reflects the Administration’s lack of commitment to serving the LEP community properly.  We urge the Council to give DHCF the resources it needs to ensure that all Medicaid and Alliance beneficiaries, regardless of their spoken language, have access to quality health care. 

1 Medicaid is a federal medical assistance program for persons living in poverty who fall into certain categories, such as children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.  Only certain categories of immigrants can qualify for Medicaid.

 2 The DC Healthcare Alliance is a health care program for uninsured District residents with incomes below 200 percent of poverty who are not eligible for Medicaid.  Unlike Medicaid, the Alliance does not restrict eligibility on the basis of citizenship or immigration status.





Mar 22


Clients Experience Language Barriers At OAH

Staff Attorney

Staff Attorney

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.