Special to the Independent
Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico joined a collection of policymakers, immigrants-rights activists with the Mass Speaks Coalition, and directly-impacted individuals to unveil his Language Access and Inclusion Act, which would dramatically expand the availability of non-English language applications and interpretation services at the state’s public-facing state agencies, such as MassHealth, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Unemployment Assistance.
The Language Access and Inclusion Act was first introduced in 2021 by Senator DiDomenico, Representative Adrian Madaro, and Representative Carlos González. The bill received 25 cosponsors across the House and Senate and was favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. Advocates at last week’s press conference said the bill is critically needed in Massachusetts, where one-in-10 residents are considered limited English proficient.
“Language access is critical for the well-being and daily lives of so many people living in our Commonwealth, especially the residents of my district and throughout gateway communities,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “Non-English-speaking residents should be able to access government services, from public health information to education to unemployment and more crucial resources. I am proud to partner with the Mass Speaks Coalition on this important piece of legislation and look forward to working with them to get this bill across the finish line.”
Introduced as SD.1066 by Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett and HD.3616 by Representative Madaro of East Boston and Representative Carlos González of Springfield, the Language Access and Inclusion Act would mandate that public-facing state agencies provide interpretation services and translate vital documents in non-English languages. Additionally, the bill would outline minimum language accessibility standards, cultivate best practices, and ensure staff capacity and training across public-facing state agencies. It would also create an advisory board with representatives from limited English-speaking communities, the deaf or hard-of-hearing community, and community groups/legal service providers to help agencies implement the law.
Claudia, a Massachusetts resident who moved from Brazil, shared her story through an interpreter, “It got to the point where any problem I had to solve with public or private companies became an anguish, a torment, something disturbing that I often gave up solving.”
The push to pass the Language Access and Inclusion Act comes on the heels of the state’s 2022 move, led by Senator DiDomenico who secured funding to bolster language access resources at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Then, the state allocated funding for services, programs, and activities to expand language access. Advocates hailed that move as a strong step in the right direction, especially considering how public-facing the RMV is, but said it is critical that the state build off of this success and implement language access reform across all public-facing state agencies.
The Mass Speaks Coalition includes the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts (an affiliate of South Coastal Counties Legal Services).