City agencies may soon be required to offer translation services during public meetings and presentations, according to a City Council bill slated to be introduced Wednesday.
City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who is co-sponsoring the bill with council members Margaret Chin and Mark Treyger, said too many residents have been left in the dark at community gatherings, due to their lack of proficiency in English.
He recalled an instance a few months ago where the NYPD held a meeting regarding a gang takedown in the predominantly Spanish-speaking Fordham section.
“None of the representatives from the mayor’s office or NYPD spoke Spanish and there was no translation service offered,” he said. “It wasn’t good.”
The bill would set thresholds based on city data on the languages spoken in various neighborhoods.
If an event is in an area where 10 percent of the neighborhood speaks a language other than English, the agency needs to provide translation services in that language during the meeting. For neighborhoods where 35 percent speak a language other than English, the agency must also provide handouts and other pertinent materials in that language as well.
Although translators are occasionally already available, there is no set rule or mandate for the service, according to Treyger.
“The failure to translate critical civic information has resulted in many New Yorkers being shortchanged in a variety of ways, from being unaware of opportunities to participate in disaster recovery programs to being unable to understand vital notices from the health department,” he said in a statement.
Torres said the agencies would either use staff from their departments or outsource volunteers to be translators.
Betsy Plum, the vice president of policy for the non-profit group New York Immigration Coalition, said the bill is a good step forward for improving government engagement with the city’s immigrants. She cautioned, however, that if the bill does pass, the city needs come up with a comprehensive strategy to make sure the translations are handled with little errors.
“We want to make sure if this done, it is done well,” she said.