Increasing Access to Services for Limited English Proficient Populations

On Aug. 11, 2000, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13166 to improve access to benefits and services for people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Since then, local, state and federal governments have spent considerable time and training to improve access to services. Many organizations in the private sector have also done their parts to update language access for clients. But, the work continues, and agencies are constantly improving how they interact with and communicate to LEP individuals.


In order to effectively increase access to services, organizations use the “invisible voice” of interpreters to help their clients. To be an effective interpreter, one must be culturally sensitive, immersed in both cultures and able to connect people of differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They must interpret the exact meaning of words and phrases with clarity and accuracy without omitting, altering or embellishing the communication and show emotional resilience while keeping all information completely confidential. Interpreters must possess good memory retention and listening skills, avoid conflicts of interest and conduct themselves professionally. Most importantly, interpreters must continually strive to develop their language skills, communication tools and use of technology to improve their work.

The work of an interpreter is full of challenges. They are constantly listening, processing, comprehending, formulating and articulating messages. They must be skilled at restructuring the information in their minds and presenting it in a linguistically and culturally appropriate manner. After all, speaking English doesn’t necessarily mean thinking in English, right?


Through their work, interpreters meet people in all aspects of their lives. Interpretation services are requested in a variety of settings, such as medical, education, housing, traffic offenses, domestic violence, assault and many more. The work is intense and the demand is great. Their work is very important for ensuring effective and clear communication between the LEP individual and the service provider. It increases adherence to and satisfaction with services while reducing liability.

Additionally, the work can also be exhilarating and very fulfilling. Many interpreters find it gratifying to know that they have assisted an LEP individual during a difficult time and provided a voice for them when and where it matters the most. It can be very overwhelming and frightening for LEP individuals coping with serious issues while surrounded by a language they do not understand. Interpreters provide them with the reassurance of their native languages so that they are able address the matters with full understanding and awareness.


It is important to remember that the inability to speak or comprehend English does not reflect a person’s level of education or intellectual capacity. It simply means that the situation requires more cultural awareness and language sensitivity in all parties involved. It is the interpreter’s job to learn other cultures, beliefs and customs and use this wealth of knowledge to bridge the gap between LEP individuals and the benefits or services they seek.

The need for interpreters and their work continues to grow, especially as the world becomes smaller and it is easier for people to interact with one another. Helping Hands Hawaii has an incredible team that works 24/7 to meet the needs of Hawaii’s LEP population. If you are a business in need of an interpreter to better serve your customers, call our Bilingual Access Line at (808) 526-9724 for assistance.


  1. All healthcare professionals should have phone interpreters for limited English speaking patients. The regulation has in mind not to discriminate at the point of treatment. However, many of the individuals may need to make a telephone appointment to a healthcare professional that does not speak their language. Other scenarios are follow up after diagnosis or treatment by phone. So far many healthcare professionals have neglected to consider the wider scope when someone may need an interpreter by phone.

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