The sounds of New York City on any given day include construction, horns honking, trains racing through tunnels, and New Yorkers speaking to each other in hundreds of languages. NYCHA has a policy to ensure that residents, Section 8 voucher holders, and applicants who have limited English proficiency (LEP) have meaningful access to its programs and activities.
Since July 2016, Millie Molina, NYCHA’s Language Access Coordinator, has visited staff around the city hosting what she refers to as “language road shows,” where she discusses the dos and don’ts of NYCHA’s Language Assistance Services Policy. Ms. Molina is also the Senior Manager for Events and Communications Services in the Department of Communications and oversees NYCHA’s Language Services Unit (LSU), which includes two Spanish, two Chinese, and two Russian interpreters, representing the most common languages spoken at NYCHA, as well as NYCHA’s Language Bank, which includes over 140 employee-volunteers who speak 34 languages that can help.
“All NYCHA staff play an important role to ensure NYCHA residents, regardless of their proficiency in English, have access to quality customer service. I began these road shows to make sure employees understand the policy and engage them in an interactive Q&A session,” said Ms. Molina. “Language should never be a barrier between the work we do and the residents we serve.”
Ms. Molina recently visited the Bronx Customer Contact Center to lead two information sessions. At the Bronx CCC, the most commonly spoken languages besides English include Spanish, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Russian, French, and Bengali.
Ms. Molina walked each group through the steps to take when communicating with a person who doesn’t speak English:
- Use the Language Identification Card to identify the language he/she speaks;
- Find a bilingual staff person who can act as interpreter;
- If a staff member isn’t available to help, contact the Language Assistance Hotline at 212-306-4444 for an on-demand, over-the-phone interpreter; or
- Use the back of the Language ID Card to arrange an in-person interpreter if the LEP person wants to schedule an appointment. These requests are made by calling LSU at 212-306-4443 or emailing Languageservices@nycha.nyc.gov.
Ms. Molina also stressed that staff must not allow a minor to serve as an interpreter and should never tell residents that they need to bring their own interpreter.
In addition to providing help with written translations and appointments for in-person interpreters, NYCHA’s Language Services Unit can also arrange for sign language interpreters for people who are hearing impaired. All of these services are provided for free to residents and applicants.
Jonathan Williams, Walk-In Center Manager at the Bronx CCC, participated in one of the sessions with his team. He said one of the most informative parts of the info session was “learning about all of the different services we as an organization provide to customers of different cultures, backgrounds, and nationalities, from language assistance to assisting persons with disabilities, by providing sign language services and translated documents.”