New York Senate Passes Bill to Increase Language Access

A bill requiring New York state agency websites to be translated into the 12 most widely spoken languages in the state has recently been passed in the state senate. Following the bill’s likely passage in the Democrat-majority State Assembly and its approval by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state will have 30 days to translate webpages dealing with COVID-19-related information and 90 days to translate all other state agency webpages. 

New York ranks among the most linguistically diverse states in the nation, with about 5.6 million residents whose primary household language is a language other than English. As a result, proponents of Senate Bill S4716A (SB S4716A) argue that this legislation is a long overdue move that will improve the accessibility of official communications from the state government. “New York’s immigrant communities have suffered enough the last 14 months, we must make sure non-English speakers have full access to all parts of our state’s robust recovery plan,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, who has sponsored the bill alongside State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents of the United States have called attention to the fact that government websites lack adequate translated versions — oftentimes, local agencies have been criticized for sloppy or delayed translations of information concerning COVID-19. For example, a mistranslation on one local government agency in Virginia’s website could have led some Spanish speakers to believe that the COVID-19 vaccine was not necessary. The original English phrase “will not be required” was translated to “no será necesario” (“will not be necessary”), leading to confusion. Sponsors of SB S4716A hope the bill will combat such errors within New York and make high quality translations of government communications accessible to most of the state’s multilingual residents.

“Our state government should speak the language of New Yorkers so they can make vaccine appointments, apply for unemployment insurance, negotiate housing information and have access to other vital services provided by the State,” Senator Hoylman said.

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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