Sakhi Steams Ahead with Furthering Language Access in the Courts

Sakhi’s Court Interpreters Project, which we initiated in the mid-1990s as a way to address systemic gaps and flaws within New York City’s interpreting services for court users, had momentous outcomes in 2008.

We disseminated, collected, and analyzed the results of our groundbreaking survey of 157 court interpreters across the country—gauging both their sense of what needed to be fixed within the court system and what steps could be taken to improve their own performance in order to ensure equal access to justice. The survey was developed as part of a coalition called the Justice Speaks Initiative, which Sakhi co-chairs.

Adélia Ramos de Almeida, a federally-qualified Portugese interpreter who works in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut courts, said of Sakhi’s policy advocacy, “I believe Sakhi’s work is extremely important because they are voicing the concerns of people who are mostly helpless for a multitude of reasons including the lack of language ability. It is vital that someone reaches out to court interpreters so that we understand our role in giving such people a chance in justice. Also, the quality of interpreters must be continuously monitored but is a very difficult task. I believe Sakhi has contributed significantly to that, and I hope they will be able to continue as we have a long way ahead of us.”

Sakhi Executive Director Purvi Shah shared some of the survey’s results in a preliminary report that also included key findings and recommendations during a May panel sponsored by the New York City Bar Association. The panel was addressed by the Hon. Judge Ann Pfau, and other panelists included Nancy Mangold, a director at the New York State Office of Court Administration, as well as interpreter Lionel Bajana, and attorneys Vivan Huelgo and Dimple Abichandani.

Sakhi’s report noted that a majority of interpreters actually requested more training in key sensitive areas such as domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault, and a majority also indicated that they felt insufficiently prepared in cases involving these topics. It also pointed out that survey respondents felt the role of court interpreters needed to be better understood not only by the public, but by attorneys and judges as well.

Lionel Bajaña, a Bronx County Supreme Court Interpreter, signaled the importance of Sakhi’s research, saying, “Sakhi is the prudent observer that shares its perspective on issues of equal language access and survivors of domestic violence with the interpreting profession in an effort to effectively address the very delicate nature of domestic violence, the interpreter and the Law. Sakhi’s research on Court Interpreting is mostly unprecedented and I’m sure will contribute to a new, but growing, area of research.”

Sakhi Domestic Violence Program Advocate Kajori Chaudhuri also presented on Sakhi’s unique work on court interpreters during a separate May event, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators 29th Annual Conference, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She shared and highlighted data from both the 2008 survey and an earlier survey conducted by Justice Speaks of 171 court users from 2007, which demonstrated the need for further language access measures and reform.

Sakhi aims to further develop its findings and conduct more work centering on court interpreters in 2009 thanks to a generous grant supporting this area of research provided by the Ford Foundation.