Community meetings and town hall sessions are an important way to get residents of a given region involved and engaged in local politics and other developments. Of course, that comes with a little bit of a caveat: Speakers have to be able to communicate with one another seamlessly. That means having a language access plan for these meetings is key.
Recently, advocates in the US state of New Jersey raised concerns about the state not providing adequate language access services at community meetings on the environment, leading to low engagement levels among individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). According to a recent report from the local outlet NJ Advance Media, interpretations and translations into Spanish are not commonplace at some state-sponsored community engagement meetings.
In particular, advocates have directed their concerns at meetings regarding changes to the local environment. For example, in the city of Camden — where 43.9% of the population speaks a language other than English at home — public hearings on an expansion to a local trash incinerator facility that could affect local air quality were held entirely in English, leaving those who don’t speak the language in the dark.
“It is a big concern that a lot of these environmental issues are happening in the city with little to no outreach to our Hispanic neighbors who make up a near majority of the city, particularly from government and private industry representatives that are holding meetings targeting the community,” one resident and activist told NJ Advance Media.
This isn’t just a problem in New Jersey. Just last year, MultiLingual reported on efforts in Texas to ensure that individuals with LEP in the state have access to information on developments that might adversely affect their environment, such as oil refineries and waste sites not unlike the one in Camden.
The state government is currently considering a bill to require state agencies to provide translation services into the 15 most widely spoken non-English languages in the state, similar to a recent policy adopted by the neighboring state of New York. And some recent meetings held by the Department of Environmental Protection have offered live Spanish interpretation, indicating that the situation is improving as the issue comes to the forefront.