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December 4, 2018
Contact: HHS Press Office
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New HHS Checklist Helps First Responders Ensure Language Access and Effective Communication During Emergencies

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has unveiled a plain language checklist to help first responders provide services to individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals with disabilities during emergency response and recovery efforts. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 350 languages are spoken across the country.  In addition, approximately 15 percent of adults report some trouble hearing, 8.1 million people are visually impaired, and 32 million adults are illiterate.  Federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandate that federally funded emergency response and recovery services must be accessible to people with limited English proficiency and people with disabilities. 

“Recent natural disasters have demonstrated the importance of ensuring accessibility to health and human services for everyone living in the United States, including people who are limited English proficient or with disabilities in need of interpretation and translation services,” said Director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights and Chair of the HHS Language Access Steering Committee, Roger Severino. “I commend our first responders for keeping Americans safe, and hope that this tool will assist them and the diverse communities they serve in emergency situations.”

The checklist resulted from efforts of the HHS Language Access Steering Committee, led by the HHS Office for Civil Rights.  It includes recommendations, specific action steps, and resources to assist first responders in providing on-the-ground language assistance and communicating effectively in disasters.  It complements an emergency preparedness checklist HHS released in 2016, and is an additional tool for responders and local partners who serve community members limited English proficiency or disabilities.  Practical tips range from how to identify language needs in a disaster-impacted community to effectively utilizing interpreters. 

In a recent blog, experts in the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and OCR explore how public health, healthcare, and emergency response organizations can use the new checklist to enhance language access and create disaster health communications to better assist impacted communities. 

Visit the OCR website to view the checklist and read essential information on how federal civil rights laws and HIPAA laws apply in emergencies.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: December 4, 2018

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