Frequently Asked Questions

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Click on the category below to link the the topical series of questions, or click to a specific question to link to the answer. If your question is not provided below, then submit your question to CRD. We will respond to your question via e-mail. image of question marks

What are civil rights?
How do I file a civil rights complaint?
How do I file an EEO complaint?
Is EEO just for minorities?
What should contractors do if they feel they have been discriminated against by federal employees?
What is workforce diversity?
Why is workforce diversity important?
How does diversity differ from equal employment opportunity and affirmative action?
What is MD-715?
What is the MD-715 Corporate Committee?
Why does BOR collect information about my race, ethnicity and gender?
What are the revised categories for race and ethnicity?
What are targeted disabilities?
Phrases come and go, is it alright to use "handicap"? What about other words?
Who is considered a person with a disability?
What is the difference between 504 and ADA?
How can I learn more about specific disabilities?
What is the difference between a reasonable accommodation and a reasonable modification?
How can I find an interpreter for my meeting or training?
Do I need to hire a qualified interpreter?
What is LEP?
What laws require serving an LEP individual?
What do the laws require?
Who will enforce the LEP rules?
Does the Department of Justice require language assistance plans from Federal agencies or Federal Assistance recipients?
What are recipients of Federal funds and Federal agencies required to do to meet LEP requirements?
What is the difference between interpretation and translation?
How do we determine which documents must be translated?
How do I know which minority groups are in my area and the language that serves them best?
How to I obtain an interpreter or translator?

If you don't see your question or would like to offer a suggestion, please submit a question or provide feedback to CRD and we will respond to your e-mail.

Civil Rights, EEO & Complaints

Q. What are civil rights?
A. Civil rights are protections under the law prohibiting that any person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, national origin, age or disability be subjected to unlawful discrimination. Specifically, there are protections required for any beneficiary of any program or activity conducted by or which receives Federal financial assistance from the Department of the Interior. Discrimination includes: denial of services, aids, or benefits, provision of different services or in a different manner, and segregation or separate treatment. In addition, sex discrimination is prohibited in Federally assisted educational programs. Go to Top

Q. How do I file an civil rights complaint?
A. A member of the public may file a civil rights complaint if they feel they have been discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, age or disability in a federally conducted or federally assisted program, including subrecipients. Discrimination on the basis of sex or religion is also prohibited in some federally assisted programs. Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited in all federally assisted educational programs.

In situations of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age or disability in an attempt to obtain the following services, then contact the agency provided below:

For a complete listing of agency that protect civil rights read "Getting Uncle Sam to Enforce Your Civil Rights, Chapter 3." To learn more about civil rights under Federal statutes please view the Civil Rights Fact Sheets. Go to Top

Q. How do I file an EEO complaint?
A. You may file an EEO complaint if you believe you have been discriminated against on one or more of the following bases: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, and/or sexual orientation or reprisal (participation in prior EEO activity) in an employment situation. Contact your local EEO Office to meet with an EEO Counselor. The EEO Counselor will explain how the process (PDF 84KB) works. Go to Top

Q. Is EEO just for minorities?
A. No, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended, covers all employees regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Go to Top

Q. What should contractors do if they feel they have been discriminated against by federal employees?
This would be determined on a case-by-case basis. The EEO staff would need to speak to the involved party to get more background and detailed information about the specific situation to determine whether EEO can process the case or direct the involved party to another source. Contact your EEO staff for assistance. Go to Top

Workforce Diversity

Q. What is workforce diversity?
A. Workforce diversity initiatives encompass a broad set of qualities beyond race or gender to respect, promote, appreciate and value differences based on the unique perspectives and contributions different individuals can provide, creating a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees. Workforce diversity includes all groups and promotes an environment which maximizes the potential of all employees by valuing different people, different lives, different choices, different perspectives, different approaches, and different solutions. Go to Top

Q. Why is workforce diversity important?
A. Workforce diversity contributes to the overall accomplishment and attainment of organizational objectives. Ac cording to a survey conducted by the American Management Association (AMA), respondents indicated that a mixture of genders, ethnic backgrounds, and ages in senior management consistently correlates to superior corporate performance.

The survey, which involved more than 1,000 managers and executives in AMA-member companies also found that open-teams, with a significant share of senior managers recruited from outside organizations, outperform insular groups that heavily promote from within. In addition, organizations that include senior managers under the age of 40 show a greater success pattern than those with older top executives. The survey evaluated the impact of diversity on performance metrics such as annual sales, gross revenues, market share, shareholder value, net operating profit, worker productivity, and total assets.

Authors of this survey also noted that it is not the predominance of any one set of people, but rather the participation of managers of varying gender, ethnicity, age, and experience that correlates to strong organizational performance. Go to Top

Q. How does diversity differ from equal employment opportunity and affirmative action?
A. Equal employment opportunity, diversity, and affirmative action are interrelated programs with the same desired outcome— equal employment for all.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is a basic policy and regulatory program of the US Government prohibiting discrimination against employees or applicants for employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in accordance with a wide range of statutes, Executive orders, regulations and policies. Federal agencies have the responsibility to develop and administer non-discrimination policies, practices and procedures with the advice and assistance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There are other non-discriminatory laws involving federal employment which are not enforced by the EEOC including sexual orientation, status as a parent, marital status, political affiliation, and conduct that does not adversely affect the performance of the employee.

The EEOC has overall responsibility for developing uniform standards, guidelines, and policies defining the nature of employment discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability under all Federal statutes, executive orders, regulations, and policies which require equal employment opportunity. The EEOC monitors, coordinates and enforces anti-discrimination policies based on Title VII (as amended), prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) , which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals 40 years of age and older; the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in compensation for substantially similar work under similar conditions; and Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), which prohibits employment discrimination against Federal employees and applicants with disabilities and requires that reasonable accommodations be provided. See the EEOC Regulations for the Federal sector or Reclamation procedures.

Affirmative Action focuses on the employment levels of women and minorities in comparison to their availability in the civilian labor force. Affirmative Action programs are based on statutory law and case law developments and are designed to eradicate barriers impeding equal employment through the use of proactive measures such as outreach initiatives to women and minority organizations. For these reasons, proactive measures or "affirmative employment programs" such as the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program (FEORP) were developed by the Office of Personnel Management which incorporated the statutory requirements in 5 USC 7201(c) to carry out a continuing equal opportunity recruitment programs to increase the participation rates of women and minorities in the Federal service. See FEORP for additional information. 

EEOC is responsible for monitoring federal agency compliance with equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws and procedures, and reviewing and assessing the effect of agencies' compliance with requirements to maintain continuing affirmative employment programs to promote equal employment opportunity and to identify and eliminate barriers to equality of employment opportunity. See EEOC for additional information on the laws and governing affirmative action in the federal sector.

In 1964 the Congress adopted a basic anti-discrimination policy for Federal employment, stating:  

It is the policy of the United States to insure equal employment opportunities for employees without discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. [5 USC 7151] 

The basic policy statement on Federal equal employment policy enacted by the Congress in 1964 (5 USC 7151, redesignated as section 7201) gave the President authority for implementation. Executive Order 11246 (1966), expanded and superseded by Executive Order 11478 (1969) with respect to Federal employment, requires Federal agencies to develop affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination and assure equal employment opportunity.  

In 1972, Congress found that minorities and women were significantly absent at higher levels in Federal employment, and severely underrepresented in some Federal agencies and in some geographic areas where they constituted significant proportions of the population. After a review of Federal employment practices and statistics, Congress extended Title VII coverage to Federal employment in Section 717 of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. See Legislative History of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, p. 83. See pp. 82-86 and 421-425 for Congressional Findings.  

In 1978, Congress reaffirmed and amended this policy as part of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 [Sec. 310 of Pub. L. 95-454], requiring immediate development of a recruitment program designed to increase participation rates of minority groups in specific Federal job categories (see Conference Report on Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, No. 95-1272, p. 145. Specifically, Section 310 of this Act directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to:

  1. Issue regulations to implement a program under EEOC Guidelines for Executive agencies conduct continuing recruitment programs to carry out the anti-discrimination policy in a manner designed to increase participation rates in identified categories of civil service;
  2. provide continuing assistance to Federal agencies in carrying out such programs;
  3. conduct a continuing program of evaluation and oversight to determine the effectiveness of such programs;
  4. establish occupational, professional and other groupings within which appropriate recruitment will occur, based upon the determinations of participation pursuant to these Guidelines; and
  5. report annually to the Congress on this program, not later than January 31 of each year.  

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 clearly stated for the first time, that "it is the policy of the United States... to provide... a Federal workforce reflective of the Nation's diversity." This Act established in law the first merit principle that recruitment should be designed to achieve a Federal workforce from "all segments of society." Among the personnel practices prohibited by the Act is discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Accordingly, the Civil Service Reform Act and its directive for a special recruitment program established and united requirements for basic Federal personnel policy with requirements for Federal equal employment policy.  

For these reasons, Federal regulations governing affirmative action activities require the use data on race, ethnicity, or sex in limited circumstances, such as when analyzing the work force to identify areas of underutilization of minorities and women. See affirmative action in federal government and Department's Strategic Plan for Achieving and Maintaining A Highly Skilled and Diverse Workforce FY2005 - 2009 Go to Top

Management Directive-715 (MD-715)

Q. What is MD-715?
This Directive provides policy guidance and standards for establishing and maintaining effective affirmative programs of equal employment opportunity under Section 717 of Title VII and effective affirmative action programs under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act (PART B). The Directive also sets forth general reporting requirements.  It also supersedes Management Directives 712, 713, and 714. Go to Top

Q. What is the MD-715 Corporate Committee?
Commissioner Robert Johnson authorized the creation of a "Corporate Committee" comprised primarily of managers and supervisors to implement the Bureau of Reclamation's MD-715 Plan. The MD-715 Plan is a management tool that requires collaboration from all levels of an organization to work toward achieving a model Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program (PDF604KB, TXT). Go to Top

Q. Why does BOR collect information about my race, ethnicity and gender?
A. As required by 29 CFR 1614.601(a), "Each agency shall establish a system to collect and maintain accurate employment information on the race, national origin, sex and handicap(s) of its employees. "

Agencies use this information to determine participation rates of their workforce to ensure fair and equitable treatment in its employment policies, practices and procedures. Go to Top

Q. What are the revised categories for race and ethnicity?
The minimum categories for data on race and ethnicity for Federal statistics, program administrative reporting, and civil rights compliance reporting are defined as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian.  A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "Black or African American."
  • Hispanic or Latino. A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The term, "Spanish origin," can be used in addition to "Hispanic or Latino."
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

Respondents shall be offered the option of selecting one or more racial designations. Recommended forms for the instruction accompanying the multiple response question are 'Mark one or more' and 'Select one or more.'" (Emphasis added.)Go to Top

Q. What is the difference between "under-representation rates" versus "participation rates"?
A.  "Under-representation" was the former term used to reflect the race and ethnicity statistics that fell below the civilian labor force figures.  Since the 2003 release of Management Directive 715, agencies utilize the term "participation rates" to identify the statistics by race and ethnicity, gender, and disability categories.  For example, rates of participation in the areas of promotion, recruitment, retention, training, awards and discipline, etc. are examined to ensure equal opportunity. Go to Top

Q. What is a targeted disability?
It is the Government's responsibility to be a model employer. As part of the goal to have a workforce that mirrors the civilian labor force, the participation rates of individuals with "targeted disabilities" are monitored annually. Targeted Disabilities are: deafness, blindness, missing limbs, partial paralysis, total paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, and distortion of the limbs or spine. Efforts to improve the numbers of employees with these disabilities in the Federal workforce are being undertaken. Go to Top

Accessibility and Disability Rights

Q. Phrases come and go, is it still alright to use "handicap"? What about other words?
Many terms have been used over the years to refer to people with disabilities. Many are passé now. The key to appropriate terminology is to focus on the individual first, their disability second (if it is even important to the conversation). Using the right terms can make a big difference in communication.

"Handicap" is a term which is still seen in laws and regulations, but is no longer used synonymously with disability. The term was made obsolete in the 1992 Amendments of the Rehabilitation Act; however there is no mandate to go back and change the wording from "handicap" to the appropriate form of "disability". From 1992 on though "handicap" should only be used in the context of sports such as bowling, golf or horse racing.

"Accessible" refers to the condition of being compliant with design standards and regulations that make a facility or program usable by a person with a disability. For example:

  • The accessible parking space is in the north lot.
  • The campground policies make camping accessible to all visitors.

Preferred terms are those which reflect the impairment or disability in real terms without sounding patronizing or condescending, or trendy:

  • blind
  • deaf
  • developmentally disabled
  • disabled
  • hearing impaired
  • individual with a disability
  • mentally ill
  • mobility impaired
  • multi-disabled
  • paralyzed
  • person with a disability
  • paraplegic
  • visually impaired
  • wheelchair user
  • ...or simply say Joe has epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other specific disease

Avoid terms that instill pity, negativity, or false impressions on the hearer or reader such as:

  • afflicted
  • confined to a wheelchair
  • crazy
  • crip or crippled
  • deaf and dumb
  • defective
  • deformed
  • differently-abled
  • gimp
  • invalid
  • lame
  • maimed
  • physically challenged
  • poor unfortunate
  • retard
  • spastic or spaz
  • stricken
  • victim
  • wheelchair bound
  • withered

The keys to finding the right term is choosing one that expresses the individual with dignity and places the individual before their disability or impairment. People with disabilities are people firstly, disabled secondly. Other disability etiquette tips are available for specific disabilities in a booklet by the United Spinal Association. Go to Top

Q. Who is considered a person with a disability?
A. A person with a disability or impairment is considered to be an individual with a physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, caring for self, breathing, learning, etc., has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment. Go to Top

Q. What is the difference between 504 and ADA?
The term 504 refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It states that no qualified person based on their disability may be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any Federally conducted or assisted program or activity. It requires that programs and services conducted or assisted with Federal dollars must be provided in an accessible manner at an accessible location to beneficiaries.

The ADA is the acronym for the Americans with Disabilities Act and is better known than the Rehabilitation Act. The ADA prohibits discrimination by State and Local government and private entities, such as private businesses. The ADA is the force behind ensuring access to most of the consumer services we use daily.

When a facility complies with the design standards for usability by people with disabilities, one should use the term "accessible" rather than "ADA compliant" or "504 compliant" since the two apply to different entities. Go to Top

Q. How can I learn more about specific disabilities?
Becoming disabled or knowing somebody with a disability can make us nervous. Learning more about the specific disability can help. Here are some sources:

  • The Internet has become a very good source of information about disabilities. There are many websites specific to a disability that provide current, useful information about dealing with lifestyle issues related to disabilities, work life issues, medical matters, socialization, insurance, etc.
  • Each state has an independent living center and each governor's committee or council for people with disabilities. Just use your favorite search engine with your state name "ILC" or "governor's committee for people with disabilities". For a list of State Agency Disability Resource Locator Web sites, you may want to visit Health & Human Services resource locator.
  • Support groups for people with disabilities and their family/friends, either in person or on-line, can provide need support and information about specific disabilities. Contact your state independent living center, local hospital, or community disability or senior services for information about groups and meetings in your area.
  • Knowing and caring for someone with a disability is often the best reason for learning about a specific disability. Communicating your interest in understanding the disability to your friend or family member can start a dialogue for better understanding the needs of the individual as well as issues related to their disability. It must also be understood too, that some individuals prefer not to discuss their disability with others and that right must also be respected. In which case, some of the other resources listed above can be helpful. Employment situations are particularly delicate, as an employer is not permitted to raise the issue of having a disability unless the disability is obvious or the employee speaks of it first to the manager. Managers should understand their responsibilities when supervising and employee with a disability. Go to Top

Q. What is the difference between a reasonable accommodation and a reasonable modification?
A reasonable accommodation is the term used for an adjustment or alteration to a job or worksite that enables a qualified individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform essential job duties, or enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

A reasonable modification is an adjustment or alteration to a program or activity that enables a qualified individual with a disability to apply for program participation, participate in the program or activity, or enjoy the benefits of the program or activity.

A qualified person with a disability is a person with a disability who meets the basic eligibility requires of the job, or program or activity.

In determining whether to provide either a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification, the employing entity or the entity providing the program or activity determines if the request would fundamentally alter the job/position or the program or activity, and whether the alteration would cause an undue financial or administrative burden. If it is determined that the request for reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification presents an undue burden, then the entity must take other actions or explore other provisions to ensure equal access. Go to Top

Q. How do I find a sign language interpreter for my meeting or training?
Congratulations on recognizing your responsibilities! The responsibility to cover the costs of effective communication with meeting or training participants rests with the sponsor. If you haven't already done so, your meeting or training announcement should say something like: "If you intend to participate and have special needs please notify (Name of Contact Person) at (Phone) or (email) by (deadline date) to make arrangements for auxiliary aids." The participant requesting the accommodation may not be charged to cover the cost of the auxiliary aid, but if tuition or fees are assessed of all participants, they may be increased to cover the cost.

When contacted by a participant, determine which aids will meet the needs of the individual. Not always does the participant require an interpreter. They may need an assistive listening device, computer-aided real time reporting (CART), specific seating in relation to the speaker, or some other auxiliary aid.

If the individual does need an interpreter here are some other things to consider:

  • Verify whether the participant needs an interpreter that knows American Sign Language (ASL), Signed Exact English (SEE), or Oral interpretation. If the topic of the meeting or training is specialized, an interpreter with skill in that vocabulary may be necessary.
  • If many acronyms will be used prepare a list of those acronyms for the interpreter before the event. It is also very helpful for them to have the agenda and handouts that are given at the event.
  • Depending on the duration of the meeting, more than one interpreter may be necessary.
  • At the beginning of the meeting/training notify participants to speak clearly if questions are asked.
  • Build in breaks into the agenda at least one 10- to 15- minute break per hour. Be aware, interpreters often work during the breaks to continue communication between participants.

Depending on your location, you may have to do some searching to find the most appropriate interpreter for your needs. Here are some leads to finding an interpreter:

  • Local centers on deafness
  • State commissions on deafness
  • State schools for the deaf
  • Local interpreting agencies or companies
  • Local chapters of disability support groups
  • Centers for independent living
  • Governors committees for people with disabilities

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Q. Do I need to hire a qualified interpreter?
The short answer is yes. A qualified interpreter is one who is qualified to effectively, accurately, and impartially interpret, both receptively and expressively, using necessary specialized vocabulary.  An individual does not have to be certified in order to meet this standard.  A certified interpreter is one who has been trained in a more specialized vocabulary such as interpreting legal or medical situations.  The most common systems of sign language are American Sign Language (ASL)and Signed Exact English (SEE). An individual or family member who knows sign language or who is taking a sign language class is not an acceptable substitute for a qualified interpreter.

Assess the situation, speak with the person with a disability and determine the most qualified person for the job. The person with a disability may even have interpreters to refer that have been used for other events. Consider the the following regarding your interpreter:

  • Interpreters can be hired in two ways 1) through a referral agency; or 2) by direct hire. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
  • A referral agency might be more expensive, but they will contact and hire the interpreter and negotiate billing.
  • Direct hiring allows you negotiate the fees. You may have to contact several to check availability and rates.
  • Knowing ASL doesn't necessarily make a good interpreter. Some references might be helpful.
  • Depending on the event, you might want a certified interpreter. the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf provide national certification. Ask for certification from the interpreter if needed. Some states also have certification and screening systems. State screening tests are a stepping stone toward full national certification.

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Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

Q. What is LEP?
A. LEP refers to Limited English Proficiency and applies to individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English. These individuals may be entitled language assistance with respect to a particular type or service, benefit, or encounter. Go to Top

Q. What laws require serving an LEP individual?
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Title VI regulations, prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, and Executive Order 13166 issued in 2000 require that Federal programs, among other jurisdictions, have provisions for language services for LEP individuals. Go to Top

Q. What do the laws require?
A. Executive Order 13166 requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them which may include but is not limited to interpretation or translation of information in the individual's language.  It is expected that agency plans will provide for such meaningful access consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency.  The Executive Order also requires that the Federal agencies work to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries. Go to Top

Q. Who will enforce the LEP rules?
A. The Coordination and Review Section of the Civil Rights Division of DOJ has taken the lead in coordinating and implementing this Executive Order. Where Reclamation provides Federal Assistance, Reclamation will also provide oversight and guidance to the recipient regarding their LEP responsibilities. Go to Top

Q. Does the Department of Justice require language assistance plans from Federal agencies or Federal Assistance recipients?
A. No, not based on the regulations. However, if a recipient undergoes a return compliance review, they are likely to be questioned about their steps to ensure meaningful access. This could also be raised during a complaint investigation.

Although, not required, Federal agencies should have a plan in place to identify the steps taken to ensure meaningful access to LEP individuals seeking services, benefits, information. Those plans should be implemented and understood by all employees having public contact or developing information for public dissemination.

The Department of the Interior has an implementation plan which is currently being updated, and and Equal Opportunity Directive 2000-23 (PDF 603KB), providing further guidance. Per direction of EOD 2000-23, Reclamation has developed its plan (PDF 98KB). Go to Top

Q. What are recipients of federal funds and federal agencies required to do to meet LEP requirements?
Recipients and federal agencies are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP persons. While designed to be a flexible and fact-dependent standard, the starting point is an individualized assessment that balances the following four factors:

  1. the number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program or grantee;
  2. the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program;
  3. the nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the program to people's lives; and
  4. the resources available to the grantee/recipient or agency, and costs.

As indicated above, the intent of this guidance is to find a balance that ensures meaningful access by LEP persons to critical services while not imposing undue burdens on small business, or small nonprofits. Go to Top

Q. How do I determine which documents must be translated?
A. After conducting the individualized assessment of routinely written English materials, it is necessary to ensure that vital documents are translated into the non-English language of each regularly encountered LEP group eligible to be served or likely to be affected by the program or activity. A document will be considered vital if it contains information that is critical for obtaining federal services and/or benefits, or is required by law. Vital documents include, for example: applications, consent and complaint forms; notices of rights and disciplinary action; notices advising LEP persons of the availability of free language assistance; prison rule books; written tests that do not assess English language competency, but rather competency for a particular license, job, or skill for which English competency is not required; and letters or notices that require a response from the beneficiary or client. For instance, if a complaint form is necessary in order to file a claim with an agency, that complaint form would be vital. Non-vital information includes documents that are not critical to access such benefits and services. Advertisements of federal agency tours and copies of testimony presented to Congress that are available for information purposes would be considered non-vital information.

Vital documents must be translated when a significant number or percentage of the population eligible to be served, or likely to be directly affected by the program/activity, needs services or information in a language other than English to communicate effectively. For many larger documents, translation of vital information contained within the document will suffice and the documents need not be translated in their entirety.

It may sometimes be difficult to draw a distinction between vital and non-vital documents, particularly when considering outreach or other documents designed to raise awareness of rights or services. Though meaningful access to a program requires an awareness of the program's existence, we recognize that it would be impossible, from a practical and cost-based perspective, to translate every piece of outreach material into every language. Title VI does not require this of recipients of federal financial assistance, and EO 13166 does not require it of federal agencies. Nevertheless, because in some circumstances lack of awareness of the existence of a particular program may effectively deny LEP individuals meaningful access, it is important for federal agencies to continually survey/assess the needs of eligible service populations in order to determine whether certain critical outreach materials should be translated into other languages.Go to Top

Q. How do I know which minority groups are in my area and the language that serves them best?
The Limited English Proficiency Interagency website is an excellent resource to begin your research for LEP assessments. There you'll find links to guidance and other Federal websites, like the Bureau of Census to assist you in determining minority groups in a specific location. The Bureau of Census provides data about demographics at several levels and forms. Further research will lead to finding the language that best serves the minority populations to be served.

There are also many community resources that can be of assistance. Most larger cities have organizations that support foreign populations immigrating to the United States. These organizations may have statistics on the newly arriving minority groups and the best means to communicate with them, as well as other culturally relevant communication customs. Possible organizations and Internet search terms include:

  • Agency for New Americans;
  • World Relief;
  • International Rescue Committee;
  • State Office for Refugees;
  • English Language Centers; and
  • Religious organizations serving immigrants.

Hospitals may be able to share statistics of minority groups they serve as well as their methods of communicating with these individuals.

Consider undertaking your research or sharing your findings with other Federal agencies having the same responsibility. Consider contacting other Federal agencies who may have already undergone their assessments. Your Federally Assisted Recipients should also be aware of their responsibilities and by sharing your findings with these partners, one more hurdle is removed from their compliance.Go to Top

Q. What is the difference between interpretation and translation?
For purposes related to LEP, interpretation is the process of turning words from one language to another orally through a person or service that knows both languages. Translation is turning the written word from one language to another by a person or service that knows both languages. Go to Top

Q. How do I obtain an interpreter or translator services?
No matter whether you expect to have regular communications with LEP populations or only occasional contact, options for interpretation and translation services should be known and easily arranged when needed so that timely communication can occur.

If there is uncertainty about the language being spoken, the I SPEAK Language Identification Guide can be of assistance. These cards are available from the Department of Justice, National Criminal Justice Reference Service and present the words "I speak (language) in 63 languages. LEP individuals can review the list and point to the language they speak if they can read and write in their native language. The Census bureau has a Language Identification Flashcard (PDF 575KB) that is similar in function to the I SPEAK cards and offers 38 languages.

There are many options to obtaining an interpreter or translator and depending on the situation one may be preferable to another. If you know the language service needed you could contact:

  • Language Schools
  • National Interpretation and Translation Businesses
  • Local Interpretation and Translation Businesses
  • Online translation services

If regular contact with LEP individuals is anticipated then it may be efficient to hire or train staff who are proficient in the languages encountered. Another option could be to contract with local or national interpretation and translation businesses. When individuals arrive, a call to the service using a conference phone will allow the communication to begin. In situations where the public is involved, it is never appropriate to ask a family member to interpret. Go to Top

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Last Updated: 6/10/15