Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has ordered county departments to boost language access services for residents with limited English proficiency.
The departments must comply with executive orders from 2013 requiring "competent interpretation services” and that county documents be translated into six languages other than English: Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Persian, Korean and Haitian Creole.
Officials from the Curran administration said the executive orders — signed by former County Executive Edward Mangano — were “inconsistently implemented.” Members of Nassau’s immigrant communities publicly criticized Mangano's administration for what they described as an inadequate program.
Rudy Carmenaty, deputy county attorney and director of legal services at the Nassau County Department of Social Services, will oversee the compliance effort. He is to act as an ombudsman and advise Curran if issues with implementation arise.
“Without a strong language access program, a child can go hungry because their parent couldn’t complete an application for food assistance, a patient could be misdiagnosed due to language barriers, and a victim of domestic violence may struggle to file a police report or obtain an order of protection,” Curran said in a statement.
“They were just executive orders. There was no policy to follow up,” Carmenaty said. “You couldn’t get from Point A to Point B without this policy.”
County departments will be required to use — and have access to — LanguageLine Solutions, a service that offers over-the-phone translation as well as videoconferencing for the hearing-impaired.
The county is looking to hire Haitian and Creole-speaking workers under new civil service titles for social service case workers, welfare examiners and child support enforcement workers. Titles such as “bilingual” have referred only to Spanish-speaking employees, Carmenaty said.
The county also will print documents in 18-point type for the visually impaired.
Cheryl Keshner, coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, presented the Curran administration with some of its findings from immigrants who dealt with county agencies. Keshner said non-English-speaking residents encountered dropped calls, hang-ups — even rudeness — in dealings with county staff.
“For years, a number of Nassau County residents were being denied access to assistance because of language barriers they experienced when dealing with county agencies,” Keshner said.