Sakhi Advances Language Access Work

For a decade, Sakhi has been helping to give voice to survivors of violence by enhancing language access in New York State courts. The need for this work is striking—in 2008, at least 30% of Sakhi’s new requests for assistance came from individuals who preferred to speak a language other than English.

Sakhi’s linguistically appropriate direct services coupled with its groundbreaking policy advocacy to ensure access for Limited English Proficient individuals has enabled material improvements in New York State Courts (read our timeline of Sakhi’s work in this arena). This March and April, Sakhi’s success and strategy for change gained the ears of non-profit and federal agency representatives through special presentations at national convenings.

On April 20, Executive Director Purvi Shah had an opportunity to make the case for enhancing access to a diverse group of federal agency representatives at a special convening of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency. Part of a select group of advocates who reported insights, challenges, and recommendations to a gathering of more than 150 government representatives and advocates, Purvi shared Sakhi’s expertise on language access and encouraged federal agencies to take practical steps to ensure access to vital services.

Purvi’s comments struck a chord with advocates and government leaders alike. Michael Mule, staff attorney at the Empire Justice Center and an organizer of The National Language Access Advocates Network, commented, “Purvi is a phenomenal advocate and one of the reasons is Sakhi’s longstanding commitment to working with limited English proficient women and ensuring they have language assistance services, interpreters and translated documents. At the DOJ presentation, Purvi emphasized the importance of federal agencies engaging community-based organizations in assessment and enforcement efforts and providing groups like Sakhi training on federal language access requirements to ensure more effective advocacy.”

The benefit of federal agencies collaborating with community-based organizations was underscored by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King in her welcome to the convening – and to advocates. She commented, “We know that advocates and those they represent bring real life stories, important concerns, practical solutions, analysis, and passion to our work. They know, sometimes better than we do, where we need to focus our efforts within our agencies and with our recipients.”


Acting Assistant Attorney General King encouraged agency representatives—with the audience attendees as diverse as representatives of Department of Health & Human Services to Department of Transportation—to collaborate with advocates, remarking, “We need to build upon our connections to the advocacy community in a thoughtful and paradigm-shifting way. We need to ensure true collaborations to strengthen our enforcement and outreach efforts. I want us to see building strong working relationships with community groups as essential to getting the job done.”


In addition to informing the work of government leaders, in March, Purvi helped advance the field by leading an in-depth how-to presentation on policy advocacy at the Powerful Peers forum sponsored by the Asian Women’s Shelter and Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence. Many direct services organizations experience the challenges of incomplete policies and systems not equipped to address their constituents’ needs. While direct services organizations have day-to-day expertise interfacing with vital institutions, they often do not have the capacity or mandate to enable systems reform and policy advocacy. Designed to build on its on-the-ground expertise, Sakhi’s integrated methodology enables it to advance practical solutions for enhancing systems—and to share this hands-on expertise with the field.

As part of a session on best practices for organizations serving Asian American survivors of domestic violence, Purvi detailed Sakhi’s work in making a case for institutional change in the courts describing the steps of problem definition, research, coalition and partnership-building, and innovative media advocacy. She described not only the steps but also detailed the timeline, budget, and challenges faced in enabling concrete systems change. For the 50 attendees, the session proved to be an opportunity not only to gain background in Sakhi’s research (including the landmark national survey report of court interpreters) and success but also enabled participants to take home strategies for policy advocacy to advance their diverse communities throughout the country.

As a leader in the language access field, Sakhi will continue to trailblaze policy advocacy by conducting focus groups with interpreters in order to collect additional data on how interpreters can better perform their jobs. In addition, drawing upon its social work skill-set, Sakhi will help to inform the field of court interpretation on vicarious trauma and practical steps for addressing this overlooked issue.

Through innovative policy advocacy work, Sakhi continues to demonstrate the power and reach of mobilizing expertise to transform institutions to enable government leaders and our field to better serve and give voice to our communities.

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