Working with interpreters…

by Cassie Jones, Media Intern


Individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) require interpreters to access justice in the courts. In 2008, at least 30% of Sakhi’s new requests for assistance came from individuals who preferred to speak a language other than English. In order to better serve our constituency, Sakhi for South Asian Women works to enhance the interpretation system in courts in New York State and nationwide.


As a part of this innovative language access policy advocacy campaign, to date Sakhi has conducted three focus groups with court interpreters where interpreters shared advice on how attorneys and judges should engage with LEP clients and best utilize interpreters.


On October 20, 2009, Purvi Shah, Executive Director of Sakhi, utilized data from these focus groups as part of a training with about 15 staff members from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). Purvi, conducted the training with Justice Speaks Co-Chair Amy Taylor of Legal Services NYC, and Sakhi policy intern Sonali Rana. They together aimed for the training to help NYLPI staff to better understand the role of interpreters, see the role of lawyers through the lens of court interpreters, and underscore the importance of effective lawyer/interpreter communication to best serve LEP clients. NYLPI, a non-profit that serves diverse immigrant and deaf communities, has been instrumental in furthering language access in healthcare settings. Furthermore, NYLPI recently adopted a language access policy of its own within the organization to ensure its services reflect its dedication to community lawyering.


Nisha Agarwal, Staff Attorney at NYLPI, indicated the training helped the organization move forward with enacting its groundbreaking language access policy. She noted, “The training was extremely well-received in our office. We had already developed a strong language access policy but were struggling with implementation and best practices. The training not only provided us with this information; it gave us the space to brainstorm and think through what works best for our office.”


The training began with an introduction to the work of interpretation and proceeded to cover a discussion on ethical and cultural issues and biases as well as specific issues relevant to disability rights work. In addition to showing and discussing clips based on the documentary, “Well-Founded Fear,” which investigates the process of interviews with U.S. asylum applicants, the training included a Sakhi tip sheet to educate lawyers about interpretation from the perspectives of interpreters who participated in Sakhi’s focus groups.


The tip sheet, the first of its kind, enables attorneys to consider interpretation as part of case preparation and trial work. Questions such as How does an attorney discuss sensitive issues with a client and maintain attorney-client privilege in the courtroom?, What are the roles of interpreters?, and What are the roles of lawyers? are explored in the tip sheet. To read the tip sheet, click here or below.



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