Whenever I present on language access issues there is always a question of how to provide information to website users who have limited English proficiency (LEP). Because my focus is providing support for the LawHelp.org community, these discussions may range from how best to present information to making content mobile accessible to reaching out to communities who may experience barriers to technology. However, one subject comes up over and over and over, in every conversation I have – that is how to obtain translations of legal information and referral services that are accurate, trustworthy, and that the civil legal services agencies that host client-facing statewide websites can afford. To meet this ongoing and evolving need, Pro Bono Net, through an in-kind donation from the LSI Foundation has worked with partners to provide LEP users accessible content in their language.

The LSI Foundation was created in connection with Linguistic Systems, Inc. to “operate a language services organization for charitable and educational purposes” and provides translations services to various organizations, and Pro Bono Net is lucky to be among them.

Multiple programs across Pro Bono Net’s platforms have received translation services through the LSI Foundation. The Immigration Advocates Network has leveraged this translation opportunity in several of its projects. On CitizenshipWorks, the Screening and Application tools and site content were translated into three languages by LSI Foundation translators. The ImmigrationLawHelp.org legal services directory was translated into 12 languages, providing assistance to users seeking information in languages from Burmese to Khmer. Additionally, the text in the forthcoming Spanish-version of the Pocket Daca mobile app was translated through this partnership. LawHelp Interactive has also used this opportunity to provide navigation assistance, sample language to contextualize online forms, and text of specific national forms in languages other than English.

Another way that Pro Bono Net has leveraged this donation is through the creation of the Language Access Initiative Mini Grant program. This initiative was created almost exactly two years ago, and increases access of translated materials to client facing statewide websites, such as those listed on LawHelp.org. While nationally relevant translated content is available in a translation bank, this initiative also provides mini-grants, allowing LawHelp.org website administrators to obtain translations of specific content for use on their sites.

These ‘mini-grants,’ it turns out, are anything but ‘mini.’ From mid-2012 to the end of 2013 these grants have allowed seventeen partners to translate 189 pieces of content into 25 of languages, a total value of over $90,000 in translation services. These languages range from Spanish and Chinese to Amharic, and most languages in between. The subjects range from the popular educational resources – helping users defend themselves from an eviction, answer a consumer complaint, or file for a divorce – to navigation text so users can better access the site itself. The materials this grant provides are as varied as the partners who use it.

  • LawHelpMN.org was able to translate 35 pieces of content into multiple languages- including Hmong and Somali- adding a total of eighty translated documents to their site.
  • The Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) was able to present the website for their Small Business Legal Academy in New York City in multiple languages, along with materials covering topics from Intellectual Property to Commercial Leasing Transactions.
  • Through LawHelp.org, Pro Bono Net was able to offer ten plain language guides – initially created by a TIG grant with Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and LawHelpNY – in 4 languages other than English. These guides cover basics of the legal system and language access rights.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over 25 million limited English proficient individuals residing in the United States, and as a whole they tend to be more likely to live below the federal poverty line than the overall population, making many eligible for civil legal services, while creating another barrier to receiving legal information. Through the great work of the LSI Foundation and our partners working to make their content accessible regardless of language, that barrier becomes more and more scalable each year.