A news article from New Orleans (Louisiana, USA) demonstrated the drastic consequences that vulnerable people face when their language rights are violated during emergencies.
A non-English speaker was wounded twice by gunshot fire while in the street. He then spent 10 minutes speaking to Emergency Services via a Spanish-English interpreter before help was dispatched. During the phone call, the interpreter violated interpreter protocols by telling the New Orleans 911 operator that the victim was lying about his emergency. Although the victim survived his injury, he was left paralyzed.
Millions of non-English speakers in the USA rely on Over-the-Phone interpreting services for their communication needs, without any apparent oversight on minimum quality interpretation standards. Inadequate practices and poor quality standards in phone interpreting violate non-English speakers’ right to access critical, even lifesaving information. Whether the US resident in need of emergency care pays out of pocket or relies on charity care-type insurance coverage or qualifies for federal benefits (called “Medicare/Medicaid”), no one ensures that phone interpreting is done properly, and applicable American federal law, such as Title 45 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, paragraph 155.205 c(2), says little of substance about how phone interpreting should be conducted.
Every US resident, regardless of language or legal status, deserves the highest level of communication standards from emergency personnel. While we acknowledge the White House’s ambitious Equity Agenda to emphasize multilingualism and to improve language access services (LAS) in federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, we also call for long-overdue oversight on federal funds granted to LAS-mandated American healthcare organizations. This oversight should focus on those healthcare organizations that outsource LAS compliance and management to commercial outsourcing and offshoring subcontractors operating beyond US jurisdiction.
The Global Coalition for Language Rights makes this recommendation in recognition of the fact that people everywhere, no matter what languages they use, have a right to life-saving interpreting services. To ensure that vulnerable, marginalized communities are not placed at further risk, the quality of these services must be carefully monitored. Failure to do so is literally a matter of life and death.