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New York Agencies Push to Implement Language Translation Tech

The efforts to extend language translation capabilities across all state websites that offer public services and COVID-19 information could be given more time by the state Legislature through a recent amendment.

New York Capitol_shutterstock_686759482
In New York, a longtime effort to make state agency websites more accessible to residents that speak different languages may soon extend its timeline through a recently proposed bill.

In March 2021, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring all state agencies that provide direct public services to offer language assistance services to people with limited English proficiency.

A few months later, in December 2021, a bill was enacted requiring the state’s Office of Information Technology Services to advise all state agencies on the implementation of the technology. That legislation set a 30-day deadline for websites with COVID-19 information and a 90-day deadline for all others.

“Right now, our agency is implementing the technology to support a new law, which originated right here in the Legislature, that will require state agency websites to be accessible in each of the 12 most commonly spoken non-English languages,” said state CIO Tony Riddick via email.

Those languages include Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Bengali, Korean, Haitian, Italian, Yiddish, Polish, Arabic, French and Urdu.

In Jan. 2022, an amendment was proposed to extend the time to implement language translation technology from 30 days to 60 days for state websites containing information about COVID-19. It would also extend the deadline to implement language translation technology from 90 days to six months for all other state websites.

“We have procured the necessary language translation tools, and following additional testing and configuration work, expect to deploy this new technology on time and to the benefit of many more New Yorkers,” Riddick said.

As for the number of New Yorkers that speak another language outside of English, a 2015-2019 American Community Survey found that over 1,201,322 residents speak Spanish, making it one of the top languages spoken in the state. Chinese and Russian were the second and third most spoken by 379,745 and 119,380 residents, respectively.

“Every single New Yorker should be able to access information about COVID-19, negotiate housing information and utilize government services related to pandemic recovery, but right now, if you can’t read English, you are out of luck,” Sen. Brad Hoylman, the bill's sponsor, said in a release. “More than five million New Yorkers live in households where the primary language isn’t English.”

Because of this, he added, “We can’t let language be a barrier to life-saving information, especially during this pandemic.”

Currently, the proposed bill is being reviewed by the state’s Senate before being sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for a signature.
Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.