For the next couple of blogs, we will be highlighting the innovative work of KIND’s Language Access Working Group.
KIND serves children from 80 countries around the world. While most are from Central America and Mexico, we also have clients from Afghanistan, Guinea, Bangladesh, and Haiti, to name a few. KIND staff encounter at least 40 languages spoken among our child clients, including Indigenous Central American languages for which interpretation and translation can be difficult to find. KIND’s Language Access Working Group (LAWG) enables us to work together across the organization to surmount language barriers and ensure that our clients can access the information and services they need.
LAWG was started in 2019 by Regional Director of Legal Services Carrey Wong as she and other KIND staff recognized the need to collaborate to best address language gaps, including among Indigenous language speakers and those who are deaf or hard of hearing. LAWG began as a small group with one representative from each U.S. field office that shared challenges and devised solutions to issues to improve clients’ access to language services.
In the past four years, LAWG has grown significantly and is now a group of 36 social workers, attorneys, paralegals, and other staff that meets every two months and brainstorms ways to serve children who speak languages other than Spanish. LAWG has created several projects to help streamline KIND’s approach to language access. They have worked closely with KIND’s data team to track language trends and anticipate language needs, created a landing page on KIND’s website for all offices to receive interpreters; and worked with KIND human resources staff to gather staff and intern language capacities. Ongoing projects include creating a bank of translations and templates in different languages; creating “I speak cards” to empower child clients to identify their preferred language; and collaborating with our pro bono best practice working group to improve language support for pro bono attorneys.
LAWG supports staff in being able to communicate with our clients no matter what language they speak. A main focus of LAWG is working with Indigenous language speakers, which we will focus on in the next blog, but they also work to serve kids who are Deaf or hard of hearing. In one instance, a couple of offices were referred clients who were Deaf or hard of hearing and struggling with communication. One client knew American Sign Language (ASL). The client’s attorney reached out to LAWG to find out if anyone on staff knew ASL so that he could learn a few signs to greet his client. (We learned that we have someone on our human resources team who does!) In other cases, a Deaf or hard of hearing client may not know sign language or know sign language from another country. LAWG members created a document that lists best practices and tools that can be used whenever a KIND office encounters a client who is Deaf or hard of hearing and needs language support.
Adam Pease, Senior Paralegal at KIND’s Boston office who has been a member of LAWG since he joined KIND in 2019, spoke of the beauty of language diversity.
“It’s our job as legal service providers to ensure that clients can speak in the language they’re most comfortable with and help them navigate the legal system, as well as gain access to healthcare, enroll in school, and access other needed services. I believe it is important for children to be able to speak the languages they know and love. It’s wonderful that we have such diversity of language in the United States, and that is something to celebrate.”
Read more about KIND’s Language Access Working Group and their work with Indigenous language clients here.