Disability advocates urge Maryland agencies to improve language access – Baltimore Sun

For close to six years, Mirian Librado González has been trying to reverse a decision that she didn’t fully understand at the time. After her son Jaser finished kindergarten in Baltimore County Public Schools, Librado González met with his teachers to discuss his education plan. Despite her son’s autism diagnosis and communication struggles, Librado González, who doesn’t speak English, found it difficult to understand what was being discussed during the meeting due to interpreter issues.

She later discovered that Jaser had been enrolled in a special education program without fully comprehending the implications. Rather than earning a diploma, he would receive a certificate through the Functional Academic Learning Support program, which she was not happy about. Lorraine of the Jubilee Association of Maryland translated for Librado González as she shared her experience in Spanish.

Language barriers have been a significant challenge for Spanish speakers in Maryland and other non-native English speakers in accessing disability services. According to a recent analysis, while 14% of Maryland public school students diagnosed with autism are Hispanic, only 4% of Marylanders participating in the state’s autism waiver program, which provides home and community-based support for kids with the disability, are Hispanic.

In response to these disparities, a coalition of Maryland disability advocacy groups known as Enriqueciendo Vidas has urged state leaders to address the problem and create language access plans to ensure equitable access to services for Hispanic and other underserved residents. They have sent a letter to Governor Wes Moore and state agencies asking them to make providing translation and interpretation services a priority.

Not only does the absence of language access create disparities in services, but it also means some state agencies fail to meet federal and state regulations. For example, despite regulations requiring translation and interpretation of special education documents, some state agencies inadequately deliver accessible services. Advocates are working with state officials to improve the situation and address the root causes of these disparities. Although state officials have expressed addressing the issue, progress is ongoing.

While some state agencies have taken steps to provide translation and interpretation services, shortcomings persist. This may impede parents from participating in their children’s educational planning and support system. For example, Baltimore County Public Schools has pledged to provide interpretation services for pre-scheduled meetings or conferences, while also working on an enhanced communication app to serve parents in their preferred language.

When it comes to smaller non-profit organizations, meeting the language needs of diverse families who have children with disabilities is also a challenge. The Parents’ Place of Maryland, for example, recently updated its language access plan to better serve the demographic it represents. The organization, which offers workshops and training sessions for families of children with disabilities, is striving to provide resources and support to underserved communities, emphasizing its commitment to equity.

In conclusion, the need for improved language access in service facilities throughout Maryland is critical. An equitable system that supports all individuals with disabilities is crucial. Efforts are being made by advocacy groups, the government, and educational institutions to address this issue; however, much work still needs to be done to ensure that everyone has equal access to the services they need.

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