This page provides language access requirements and resources for use by local governments in Washington State, including information on civil rights compliance issues related to Limited English Proficiency, language access plans, language requirements relating to voting rights, court requirements, and other language services.
Language access is a critical component of equal access to local government services and improved engagement. Effective communication allows residents to feel comfortable talking to local government staff across all departments as well as elected officials. This is especially important for an individual with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or for whom English is not their native language.
Federally funded entities are required to take reasonable steps that provide meaningful access to services and programs for LEP individuals, such as written translations of documents or oral language assistance from a qualified interpreter, either in-person or using digital communication options.
All organizations and agencies that receive federal support are required to ensure their customers with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency have access to vital information per the following:
- Executive Order 13166 (2000) — Requires federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services for LEP individuals, and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to these. The Executive Order also requires federal agencies and local governments receiving federal funds take reasonable steps to facilitate communication with LEP persons.
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Protects people from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) safe harbor provision recommends that, at a minimum, government entities translate vital information into another language for each LEP-identified language group. An LEP group is one that constitutes 5% of the population, or 1,000 people, whichever is less.
Federal LEP Resources
- LEP.gov — This federally maintained website acts as a clearinghouse, providing and linking to information, tools, and technical assistance regarding LEP and language services for federal agencies, recipients of federal funds, users of federal programs and federally assisted programs, and other stakeholders.
- Language Access Planning — Offers resources useful in developing a language access program.
- Department of Housing and Urban Development: LEP Frequently Asked Questions (2007) — This webpage offers LEP-related information and guidance.
- Department of Justice: LEP Resource Document - Tips and Tools from the Field — This webpage offers tips and tools on working with LEP populations based on the lived experience of court personnel, social service providers, police departments, 911 call centers, and others working in federal programs.
- Department of Labor: LEP Toolkit — This webpage offers information and guidance for federal agencies, recipients of federal funds, and community individuals and organizations.
There are state statutes related to language access for LEP persons and to access to services and programs. Examples include:
- Chapter 2.42 RCW — Requires interpreters be provided for legal proceedings
- Chapter 2.43 RCW — Requires interpreters for non-English speaking persons
- Chapter 49.60 RCW — Prohibits discrimination across broad areas and for a variety of reasons
- RCW 49.60.520 — Requires television closed captioning in places
- RCW 74.04.025 — Requires bilingual services for non-English-speaking applicants and recipients
- WAC 388-271-0010 — Defines LEP services
State LEP Resources
State agencies and departments offer information, resources, and research on best practices for improving language access. Here are a few:
- Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities: Language Access Policy Paper (2014) — Offers recommendations to state agencies on how to provide meaningful language access services in order to help ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- State Office of Superintendent of Instruction: Language Access Workgroup Summary of Report to the Legislature (2020) — Provides a series of recommendations, tools, and specific strategies meant to provide meaningful, equitable access for public school students and their family members who have language access barriers.
A language access plan (LAP) is a document that spells out how to provide services to LEP individuals. Language access plans should be tailored to individual organizations, departments, or agencies. LAPs may include similar sections, such as a needs assessment, language services offered, notices, training for staff, and program evaluation.
The DOJ’s Language Access Assessment and Planning Tool (2011) offers a blueprint for agencies and organizations on developing an LAP. It addresses conducting a self-assessment and developing language access policy directives, implementation plan, and procedures. It includes a model LAP, self-assessment questions, and more.
Local Government Ordinances, Documents, and LAPs
Generally, local governments may employ one or more of the following tools in an LAP: interpretation services (in-person and remote); written translation services, staff who speak more than one language, partnership with an organization that can provide LEP support, and/or clear notice about the availability of language services. Here are sample LAPs and ordinances in support of LAP adoption:
- King County Executive Order INF 14-2 (AEO) (2010) — Establishes a language translation process for all county departments.
- Southwest Regional Transportation Council Limited English Proficiency Plan (2014) — Outlines how persons who may need language assistance are identified, the ways in which assistance is provided, staff training required, and how LEP persons are notified assistance is available.
- Wenatchee Resolution No. 2016-32 (2016) — Supports adoption of a proposed LEP plan as a guiding document in developing language access for all city services.
The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA), Chapter 29A.92 RCW, enacted in 2018, supports and protects citizens’ voting rights and fair representation in opportunities to be elected to local government councils and commissions, and it addresses legal requirements for language access. When local governments propose to change to district-based elections, either voluntarily or upon a WVRA petition from a voter, then written and verbal notice needs to be provided by the government in languages diverse residents of the community can understand. Per RCW 29A.92.050(1), a "significant segment of the community" means 5% or more of residents, or 500 or more residents, whichever is fewer, residing in the political subdivision.
Several Washington counties are required by the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA), 52 U.S.C.V. Section 10301, et. seq., to provide multilingual election information and ballots. These requirements are based on populations of 10,000 or more, or 5% or more, persons speaking different languages residing withing a jurisdiction. The minority language provisions of the federal VRA were added in 1975. These minority language mandates are found in Section 203 of the VRA and in federal regulations 28 C.F.R. Part 55.
As noted, some counties already provide election material in languages other than English. For example, King County provides election materials and ballots in a number of languages including English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Pierce County provides materials in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean. Adams, Franklin, and Yakima counties must provide ballots and election information in English and Spanish.
Language Access and Elections Resources
- Washington Secretary of State: Elections: Complying with minority languages (2011) — Provides an overview of how and why Washington counties provide bilingual election-related materials.
Providing language access services in court is essential and helps participants to meaningfully engage in the judicial process. Equal and fair access to courts requires measures to reduce and eliminate barriers to understanding and presenting the facts and how the law applies in court decisions. Per RCW 2.43.090, language assistance plans are required for each trial court in Washington State. These plans provide for interpreter services for access to civil and criminal proceedings in the courts.
Sample Washington Court LAPs
The Washington Administrative Office of the Courts’ Deskbook on Language Access in Washington Courts (2017) addresses access for limited English proficient and deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind (D/HH/DB) persons to court services, and includes a Model Language Access Plan for courts. The local government samples below closely follow the model strategy.
- Battle Ground Municipal Court Language Assistance Plan (2017)
- Fircrest Municipal Court Language Access Plan (2018)
- Language Access Plan of Burlington Municipal Court (2020)
For law enforcement, language barriers can impede effective and accurate communication of important rights, obligations, and services, and it can hamper the ability of LEP persons to communicate in difficult situations. Hampered communication with LEP victims, witnesses, alleged perpetrators, and community members can present local police officers with safety, evidentiary, and ethical challenges.
Some local law enforcement agencies have taken proactive measures to build trust and strengthen relationships by conducting outreach to LEP communities. By building trust, law enforcement can advance their core mission of providing public safety. When community members know and trust their local officers, they are more likely to report crime and to work with police on neighborhood crime-reduction strategies.
Law Enforcement and Community Outreach Resources
- Community Oriented Policing Services: Language Access Policy and Plan — Offers a brief overview of the organization’s LAP and plan for implementing it.
- LEP.gov: Law Enforcement Subtopic Page — Offers links to LEP resources related to law enforcement, district attorneys, correctional facilities, probation, and state and local laws.
- Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)
- Inventory of Promising Practices and Programs for Immigrant and Refugee Outreach (2020) — Includes a link to a downloadable spreadsheet as well as links to additional PERF publications on working with immigrant communities.
- Strengthening Relationships between Police and Immigrant Communities in a Complex Political Environment: Multicultural Outreach and Engagement Programs for Police Agencies (2018) — Provides guidance on creating programs for building strong relationships with immigrant communities. The Seattle Police Department’s Community Outreach Unit is included as one of four examples.
- Building Trust with Immigrant Communities: Best Practices for Law Enforcement Agencies in Smaller Cities and Towns (2020) — Focuses on the challenges and solutions identified by small-town police departments.
- U.S. Department of Justice
- Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers (2020) — Provides brief summary of how police officers can effectively communicate with deaf/hard-of-hearing persons.
- LEP Resource Guide for Law Enforcement (2013) — Provides guidance on strategies to ensure language access, resources for obtaining language services, and possible funding sources.
- DOJ Language Access Plan (2012) — Details the DOJ’s initiatives to enhance access to its federally conducted programs and activities by LEP individuals.
- Office of Justice Programs on LEP (2020) — This webpage includes law enforcement links and a sample police department LEP policy.
- Vera Institute of Justice
- Bridging the Language Divide: Promising Practices for Law Enforcement (2009) — Discusses promising practices for overcoming language barriers in policing based on a review of over 200 agencies nationwide.
- Translating Justice (2006) — This guide offers resources about overcoming language barriers in law enforcement, as well as resources for immigration services providers, victim services providers, and criminal justice/juvenile justice practitioners.
- Engaging Police in Immigrant Communities Project (2012) — The EPIC project is a national effort to identify and assess promising law enforcement practices that cultivate trust and collaboration with immigrant communities.
Local Government Police Department Documents
- Mattawa Language Assistance Plan — While it is also a guide for town employees, this LAP focuses primarily on creating LAP policies and procedures for the town’s police department.
- Spokane Police Department Manual, Chapter 368 (2017) — Provides guidance to officers when communicating with LEP individuals.
Some local governments choose to use external translation services that provide both on-site and on-demand options and can cover thousands of languages. Below is a sample service:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources for Local Governments — This MRSC resource provides resources, tools, and sample documents related to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives taking place in Washington State local governments.
- Community Engagement Resources — This MRSC page provides links and resources related to public participation and community engagement.
- Police Executive Research Forum — PERF is an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing. Since its founding in 1976, PERF has identified best practices on fundamental issues such as reducing police use of force; developing community policing and problem-oriented policing; using technologies to deliver police services to the community; and evaluating crime reduction strategies.
- U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey — Produced annually, the ACS is the premier source for detailed population information and language use, which can help a local government understand the demographic changes taking place in their communities and determine where and how to direct language access resources.
- Washington State Coalition for Language Access — WSCLA is an education and advocacy organization whose mission is to eliminate language barriers that prevent Washington residents from accessing essential services.