In August 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Order requiring all federally assisted programs to provide access for persons with limited English proficiency. This order highlighted the need to consider language issues in the design and execution of federal, state and local service programs. ...
In August 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Order requiring all federally
assisted programs to provide access for persons with limited English proficiency. This
order highlighted the need to consider language issues in the design and execution of
federal, state and local service programs. Concurrently, it stimulated awareness of the
need for scientifically reliable data on the prevalence of English proficiency and the
steps needed to overcome existing barriers to collecting such information.
Individuals in the United States who do not speak English well (referred to
as language-minority individuals) represent a major challenge for health and social
service agencies, educators, policy planners, and researchers. Although only about
3 percent of the U.S. population aged 5 and over speak English poorly or not at
all, the proportion varies substantially by age, nativity, education, and other factors.
Demographers and other social scientists usually use large-scale household surveys,
based on probability sampling, to collect data that accurately represent the characteristics
of the U.S. population as a whole. Most surveys limit their interviewing to English or
English and Spanish, and respondents must have a relatively high level of proficiency
in that language.
If, as expected, the proportion of language-minority individuals in the population
increases over time, the representativeness of national samples is increasingly compro-
mised. Indeed, population research based on what are purportedly nationally repre-
sentative surveys very often will overlook those immigrants likely to be the most
vulnerable. Since lack of language ability is often a barrier to accessing health care
and other social services, the inability to speak English well may contribute to dis-
parities in health outcomes.
In view of strong national commitments to (1) improving the inclusion of
minorities in clinical trials; (2) reducing health disparities among subpopulations;
and (3) developing cultural competence in health service delivery, researchers and
policy makers should give added attention to language as a potential barrier excluding
people from national surveys, as well as from access to health care and social services.
To help find ways for survey research to capture the increasing linguistic diversity of
the United States and hence be truly nationally representative, this report focused on
current barriers to inclusion as well as ways to enable inclusion.