Language Access Services: Who’s Responsible for Success?


A news article surfaced recently in which a 911 dispatch operator told the Spanish-speaking caller “no Spanish.” Usually, these stories are about the healthcare team failing to contact interpreter services, resulting in outcomes of varying degrees of devastation. That wasn’t the case, according to the article. This time, the 911 dispatch operator contacted the language services provider only to learn that an interpreter was not immediately available. Obviously, that’s a significant problem for 911 dispatch. And the minutes ticked by.

I have no insider information as to exactly what went wrong and why during this call.  As an outside observer who has only seen a news broadcast, I am entirely unqualified to speak to the specifics of the incident. Clearly, there was a breakdown somewhere. Perhaps even more than one.

The way I see it, we the people of the language services community can respond in one of two ways: 

1. We can ridicule or criticize those involved. (What were the 911 people thinking when they contracted That Company for language services? That Company has no business providing services anywhere. Scoff! Scoff!)

2. We can dismiss the incident as irrelevant to what we do. (Whew, glad that’s not my problem! Stinks to be them!) 

Or maybe there is another way to respond.

Maybe we use this incident as inspiration to assess our own state of affairs. Maybe we take action to proactively uncover opportunities to make improvements within the language services areas we do impact and influence. Everyone involved has an opportunity to contribute: interpreters, translators, project managers, operations specialists, interpreter trainers, budget owners, business owners, administrators, department managers, and anyone else involved.

When it comes to providing excellent language access services, no one is off the hook.

Ask yourself: What changes can we make that will result in improved language services?

  • How can we improve operational efficiencies?
  • How can we make better use of the available resources?
  • What new resources or processes would result in measurable improvements?
  • What opportunities are there for inter-departmental collaboration?
  • How can I meet the needs of my team so that they can meet the needs of others?

And don’t just ask yourself. Ask your team. Ask your organization. Ask your customers. You get the idea.

You might not be able to implement every idea or secure every resource, but you might be surprised at how much you can do.

You probably won't make headline news for improving your own or your department’s performance.  That’s okay. You will have had a positive impact on the organization, the individuals counting on language access services, or the language services practitioners (interpreters and translators).  Maybe even all of the above. That’s worth so much more than making the news.