Navigating the World of Interpretation & Translation in This Cosmopolitan Age

Issue #1: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Does a Spanish-speaking patient need to provide their own interpreter for their workers’ compensation appointments?

If a medical office provides a professional interpreter for a patient who speaks a language other than English within the USA, will the patient be responsible for paying the interpreter fees?

Should all the intake forms provided by the medical office be translated (written form) to the language of the patient? What if the non-English patient is illiterate in their own language?

Good questions indeed!

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 answers these questions. Title VI says that any entity, medical or otherwise, that receives federal government funds MUST provide “meaningful access to the information and services they [the entities that receive the federal government funds] provide.” That “meaningful access” is usually provided in the form of interpreting services (on-site interpreting, telephonic interpreting, or VRI - video remote interpreting). While interpreting refers to oral communication, translating refers to written. Title VI refers to LEP persons as the ones that receive said services. LEP means Limited English Proficiency. So, as an example, it is not necessary for the LEP patient to be absolutely ignorant of the English language in order to qualify for assistance. The patient just needs to be “limited” in their use of English.

Federal courts, state courts, and municipal courts almost always receive federal government funds and therefore are obligated to provide the necessary services. Those entities that receive federal government funds must pay for the services and cannot charge the LEP person. It counts as the cost of doing business. Most hospitals, home health agencies, managed care organizations, etc., are required to provide language solutions.

Users of these services can file a complaint against an offending entity and the US government will begin a costly investigation. This can be done on the federal or state level. Although this has been the case by law since 1964, there wasn’t much emphasis on enforcement until President Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 on August 11, 2000, which, in part, provides for the enforcement of Title VI.

There is a myriad of forms that are used by the entities that receive federal funds. Some forms should be translated (written) into the language of the non-English user of these services. However, many need not be translated. For example, new medical patients are often required to fill out numerous forms at their first visit to the doctor. Since the medical office has most likely hired a professional interpreter to attend the doctor’s visit, the interpreter helps the non-English-speaking patient fill out the forms, without the need to translate the original English document. In this way, it does not matter if the patient is illiterate in their own non-English language. However, other forms, such as consent forms, are often translated.

But consider this question: What other reasons are there to hire an interpreter or translator besides avoiding a lengthy and costly investigation by the federal government?

To avoid malpractice suits. We will consider a few case studies; these will be covered in next month’s installment.
Gene S. Rainone is the CEO of Verbatim Language Services, Inc.