White House increases outreach to limited English speakers

Last month, the White House Office of Public Engagement and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) convened a daylong summit for federal agencies to discuss how to improve outreach to limited English proficient (LEP) communities.

Executive Order 13166 — “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency” — requires federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to LEP individuals, and develop and implement a system to ensure meaningful access.

According to statistics, one in three AAPIs is LEP, and therefore less likely to seek medical care, report positive health care experiences, or access government economic opportunities, such as small business loans.

When President Obama signed the Executive Order reestablishing WHIAAPI, he stated, “No community should be invisible to its government.” This statement has been WHIAAPI’s guiding light, said Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“In April 2010, less than four months after I became executive director, the BP Oil Spill devastated the Gulf Coast, affecting thousands of people, including hundreds of Southeast Asians who have lived in the Gulf for decades and made their living off the waters of the Gulf Coast,” said Ahuja. “WHIAAPI deployed staff to the Gulf to address the concerns and needs of the AAPI community impacted by the spill. As a result, the first federal-wide language translation clearinghouse was established, in which all materials produced for the oil spill were translated into seven languages.”

Since then, said Ahuja, agencies have increased the number of in-language publications, conducted inventories of bilingual staff, and built stronger ties to ethnic media.

“For many of us, it is personal,” said Ahuja. “Many of the federal employees at the summit said they have family or friends who speak another language other than English at home, and many said they have had to translate or interpret for family members. As the Census has shown, more than 57 million people speak a language other than English at home.”

Ahuja said WHIAAPI’s recent series of in-language Google+ Hangouts on the Affordable Care Act has helped Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese Americans with their questions about obtaining medical insurance. “Google+ Hangouts can be a low-cost and extremely effective alternative to reaching a large number of AAPIs who are LEP,” said Ahuja. “What is great about these Hangouts is that community members can continue to access them as an important federal resource.”

At the summit, WHIAAPI asked federal partners to do even more for AAPI LEP communities, such as translating additional documents in AAPI languages, hosting an in-language Google Hangout, or thinking creatively on ways to share resources across federal agencies.

“We know that in a few short decades, the AAPI population will double,” said Ahuja. “My hope is that together, we stay ahead of this curve, and live by the ideals espoused by our president, that no community should be invisible to its government, and that the federal government — and its many resources and services — should not be invisible to LEP communities.” (end)

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