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About Limited English Proficiency
Limited English Proficiency (LEP) 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. 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.
Four Factor Analysis
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:
- the number or proportion of LEP persons eligible to be served or likely to be encountered by the program or grantee;
- the frequency with which LEP individuals come in contact with the program;
- the nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the program to people's lives; and
- the resources available to the grantee/recipient or agency, and costs.
Although, not required, Reclamation LEP Plan (PDF 98KB) and the Department of the Interior LEP Plan (PDF 1.1MB) have identified the steps necessary to ensure meaningful access to LEP individuals seeking services, benefits, information. These plans should be implemented and understood by all employees having public contact or developing information for public dissemination.
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.
The Federal Government also has an Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency to promote a positive and cooperative understanding of the importance of language access to federally conducted and federally assisted programs. A wealth of information is available from this workgroup.
The Importance of Preparation
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 produced by the Department of Justice 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 via the Internet
- Local Interpretation and Translation Businesses via the Internet
- 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.
Additional LEP information is available at the CRD Frequently Asked Questions Page.