A Hartford resident votes at a polling spot in the Pope Park Recreational Center. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

I am appreciative, but not surprised by Maricarmen Cajahuaringa’s article [republished from Connecticut Public] “Hartford ballot’s Spanish-language instructions included an error. Officials corrected it.

As the Project Advisory Committee Lead for Family Voices PEALS (Promoting Equitable Access to Language Services ) research, I have lived experiences in the continued disparities and systemic indifference towards communities whose preferred and native languages are not English. We are known as persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

Our project’s goal is to improve the quality and use of language access services in the healthcare setting for families with limited English proficiency.

The legal foundation for language access states: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination because of sex, as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing.

Health care setting: Title VI of the act prevents discrimination by programs and activities that receive federal funds, including hospitals and other health care facilities.

As the first Latine Chair of the Council on Developmental Disabilities, a state agency that is federally funded, I dug deeper and found that this law applies to ALL federally funded entities — not just health care. In fact, Executive Order 13166 “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” was signed on August 11, 2000 and requires federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them.

The executive order also requires that the federal agencies work to ensure that recipients of federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries.

I have reached out to legislators and Sen. Chris Murphy’s office hopeful that this law and executive order is equitably enforced. As a linguist and certified educator, I’ve attempted to advocate and educate national organizations of language access inequities and the law.

There’s a difference between interpretation and translation. Translation is the replacement of written text from one language into another. A translator also must be qualified and trained. Federal agencies may need to identify and translate vital documents to ensure LEP individuals have meaningful access to important written information.

Vital written documents include, but are not limited to, consent and complaint forms; intake and application forms with the potential for important consequences; written notices of rights; notices of denials, losses, or decreases in benefits or services; notice of disciplinary action; signs; and notices advising LEP individuals of free language assistance services.

There are ten Spanish dialects where Google Translate or AI translators fail to provide language access. There are two languages within the Latiné community — Spanish and Portuguese — and our state benefits from multiple international languages other than Spanish. Even English is not monolithic, British and other English-based languages would benefit from plain language access! We’re no longer a one-size-fits-all nation and state!

Doris A. Maldonado Mendez is Chair of the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities.