Making City Government Accessible to All New Yorkers
Some 200 different languages and dialects can be heard on the streets of New York. While that incredible diversity is one of our city’s greatest historic strengths—it can also create significant challenges. Nearly half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home—and nearly a quarter of New Yorkers lack a basic understanding of English at all. For them, every interaction with City government can be fraught with difficulty.
I remember when I visited Beijing and Shanghai last year to meet with Chinese business leaders. I didn’t go anywhere without a translator and I still sometimes had problems getting my point across. So I can only imagine how daunting it is for a New Yorker with limited proficiency in English to complete a seemingly straightforward task like obtaining a marriage license or enrolling a child in school.
The bottom line is that language barriers present challenges for New York to be a true city of opportunity for everyone. And that’s why our Administration has been committed to breaking down those barriers and making sure that all New Yorkers—regardless of the languages they speak—have access to the services and opportunities which help make our city great.
In our schools, we’ve expanded our translation unit so that parents can receive everything from newsletters to meeting notices in eight different languages. Our police officers now have translators standing by to help them interview victims of violent crimes and get the valuable information they need to catch criminals. We’ve also made sure that 311—the most popular gateway to City government—can handle calls in 170 different languages with experts fluent in those languages on call 24 hours a day.
We took the next big step in this effort by signing an executive order that requires our City agencies to implement better language access programs. That includes the translation of all essential documents and forms into the six most commonly spoken languages in the city besides English.
I’m a big believer in improving customer service. Businesses need to speak the language of their customers, and so should government. After all, let’s say someone reports a problem with their apartment—maybe a leaking pipe that is flooding their apartment. If that person can’t communicate with the building inspectors that arrive on the scene, the leak could end up affecting the whole apartment building.
By making city government more accessible, we are making our city safer, healthier, and stronger for all New Yorkers. And that’s what we’re working to do every single day. #