OLA holds 5th language access conference—
Delegates and speakers revisit ideas, ideals, and practices
By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
The 5th language access conference, “Ka Unuhi: Translation—Maximizing Quality and Minimizing Costs,” held August 22-23 at the Hawaii Imin International Conference Center of the East-West Center on Honolulu gathered about 200 people engaged in the various aspects of language access work in the various states of the United States.
Put together by the Office of Language Access of the State Hawaii under the leadership of Dr Serafin Colmenares Jr. as the executive director, this 5th conference continues to revisit the work of various government offices and agencies engaged in giving language access to members of immigrant communities with limited English proficiency.
It is estimated that in the State of Hawaii alone, there are about 140,000 individuals categorized as having limited English proficiency.
Technically called LEP persons, these are the very people that require translation and interpretation services in public life.
Many of these services involve the translation of basic documents citizens and residents must know in an effort to make them become aware of their civic obligations as well as their rights.
The Hawaii Language Access Law established the OLA, an office under the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
That law was enacted by the Legislature in 2006 to “affirmatively address, on account of national origin, the language access needs of limited English proficient persons to ensure equal access to state services, programs and activities.”
The law also “requires state agencies and covered entities to assess the need for providing language services and take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to its services, programs and activities by LEP persons, provide oral language services in a timely and competent manner, offer written translations of vital documents into the primary language of LEP persons, and establish a language access plan.”
OLA is to “provide oversight and central coordination of state agencies, as well as technical assistance to state agencies and covered entities in their respective implementation of language access requirements.”
In addition, OLA “monitors and reviews state agencies for compliance with the law and investigates complaints of language access violations.”
Among those supporting the conference was Governor Neil Abercrombie who sent in his message of congratulations and wrote that the conference “serves as an example of how (the cultural diversity of Hawaii) can enhance the quality of life in our islands.”
The two-day conference was packed with speakers whose presentations untangled the many issues that pertain to language access in general and the problems that relate to providing competent and efficient translation services to LEP persons.
Of those giving keynote speeches were Deena Chang, chief of the Coordination and Compliance Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice and Michael Leoz, regional manager of the Office of Civil Rights, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region IX, in San Francisco.
Chang spoke on “Federal Guidelines on the Translation of Vital Documents” while Leoz spoke of “Implementation of Federal Guidelines Among DHHS Recipients of Region IX.”
Colmenares, on the other hand, spoke of “Translation of Vital Documents in Hawaii.”
Other speakers were Dr Kerry Laiana Wong of the UH Hawaiian Studies; Kleber Palma of the New York City Department of Education; Jason Reed of the Department of Social and Human Services, Washington State; Dr Sue Zeng of the UH Center for Interpretation and Translation; Dr Aurelio Agcaoili of the UH Ilokano Language and Literature Program; Dr Byron Bender, a retired faculty of the UH Department of Linguistics; and Dr Puakea Nogelmeier of the UH School of Hawaiian Knowledge.
The second day of the conference was devoted to breakout sessions that addressed the various issues of translation for the LEP persons.
Published, Observer, September 2012