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Erie County Legislature Passes Language Access Act

By December 22, 2023January 18th, 2024No Comments

Welcome to Buffalo! Represented in the most spoken languages in Buffalo, NY

Erie County will soon start translating vital documents into its top six languages spoken, in addition to having interpreters available in county offices. It’s all part of the new Language Access Act, passed yesterday by the legislature on a 7-4 vote. The move will ensure essential information is readily available to thousands of local folks who previously didn’t have access. The top six languages spoken in Erie County, including American Sign Language, will now be determined by the language access advisory board. The committee will also identify which county documents are considered important enough to require translation.

“We made sure that all residents in Erie County have access to county services and understand in their native languages that they are most comfortable speaking,” said April Baskin (D) Chairwoman, Erie County Legislator.

The International Institute of Buffalo has a history of advocating for this type of action toward achieving  increased language access across the region.

“No one should be prevented from accessing emergency services or critical public safety information simply because of the language they speak, “said Executive Director Jennifer Rizzo-Choi. “Since people whose first language is not English are a significant and growing part of our country’s population, it makes sense to require this language access to facilitate providing services to all of our residents, not only those who are native English speakers.”

Outside of New York City, Erie County is the first in the state to adopt such a law. 2020 Census Bureau data showed around 11% of residents in Erie County speak a language other than English at home, while 20% of people in Buffalo speak a language other than English. Now, this new law will provide non-English speakers with competent, and timely interpretation services to translate critical information including emergency alerts, important or required government documents, and public service announcements.

Last year’s deadly blizzard that paralyzed the region for weeks took the lives of two immigrants, including a 26-year-old Congolese refugee experiencing his first winter. The tragedies underscored the increased need for crucial information in public services, disability services, and emergency support, as well as access to day-to-day services such as trips to the DMV or a hospital.

The Bill now heads to Erie County Executive Marc Poloncarz’s desk to sign, after which the advisory board will have 180 days to determine the county’s top six languages and how to best provide services.

Just last month, IIB supported expanded language access in New York during the Partnership for the Public Good’s meeting to select its 2024 community agenda proposal. Read more about that vote here.