New York launches Office of Language Access to support state’s language policy

New York recently launched a new office dedicated to enforcing the state’s language access policy. 

On Oct. 3, New York launched its new Office of Language Access, which will oversee the state’s recently adopted language access policy and facilitate the translation of government communications into 12 of the most widely spoken languages across the state, with flexibility for certain agencies to add onto the list of languages offered depending upon local need.

“Today, we are making it easier for all New Yorkers to benefit from every service and resource our state has to offer by tearing down language barriers,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul in her Oct. 3 announcement of the new office’s launch. “By supporting immigrants and others who are trying to build better lives for themselves and their families, we are making one thing clear: Our state welcomes you and celebrates you.”

Moving forward, the Office of Language Access will provide guidance to state agencies and oversee the state’s relatively new policy on language access. The law was first adopted in April 2022 and went into effect July 1. The state set aside $2 million to establish the Office of Language Access.

The state’s language access policy requires state agencies to translate “vital” documents — i.e., written or digital materials that residents must access in order to obtain or learn about services provided by the agency in question. Under the law, the agencies must have these documents translated into 12 languages spoken widely throughout the state by large populations of individuals with limited English proficiency. The new policy requires agencies working directly with the public to provide interpretation services in any language as well. Agencies will also be required to identify a language access coordinator to report to the Office of Language Access and ensure that their respective agency is providing adequate services under the law.

The governor’s announcement of the new office lists the following languages among those covered by the policy: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Yiddish. This list is subject to change as the state’s linguistic demographics evolve, however, as the law only specifies that agencies must translate vital documents into the 12 most commonly spoken languages spoken among people with limited English proficiency.

“New Yorkers with limited English proficiency play an essential role in our state’s economy and are integral parts of our communities. They deserve equitable access to vital documents, information, and services,” said Jeanette Moy, commissioner of the state’s Office of General Services.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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