Language Access

Over 30 percent of Seattle's foreign-born residents are linguistically isolated, which the U.S. Census Bureau defines as "a household in which no person 14-years-old and over speaks only English, and no person 14-years-old and over who speaks a language other than English speaks English 'very well'." These families often have significant difficulty accessing helpful City services and programs. Our commitment to Language Access has resulted in a program and a plan with the overall goal of increasing the City’s capacity and competence in serving limited English proficient immigrant and refugee residents. The program’s foundation is a Language Access Plan with five components. Below is a summary.

Download a flyer about Language Access. (Right-clink, then select, "Save link as..." and save to your computer.)


Language Access Plan



Create a more welcoming environment in the City's public spaces and improve the tools used by City employees to interact with the community.

  • Make city's spaces more linguistically accessible for limited English proficient visitors/residents.
  • Train front-line and customer services staff to be responsive to limited English proficient visitors/residents.
  • Improve the City phone system access for foreign language speakers.
  • Promote free language assistance services to the community.

Mayor Edward B. Murray with a Refugee Women Institute participant.


Plan ahead to ensure Language Access is an essential component of all programs and services.

  • Create Language Access plans for each City department.
  • Identify Language Access Liaisons within each department to oversee creation of plan and monitor progress.
  • Share demographic data on immigrants and refugees in Seattle.
  • Train staff on how to embed Language Access best practices in all of their work, with a particular focus on public programs and projects.


Build capacity to provide interpretation and translation services for those who need them.

  • Update the City's list of preferred interpretation and translation providers.
  • Create a toolkit that includes FAQs, guidelines, and tips for when to use interpreters or translators.
  • Update the internal website for employees to make it easy to use.
  • Train employees to use the Language Line.
  • Identify employees within departments who are qualified to translate for their departments.
  • Revitalize the City's Language Bank.


Enhance the capacity of communications staff and public information officers to effectively communicate with limited English proficient residents of Seattle.

  • Prioritize ethnic media to communicate key issues and information on City programs and services.
  • Use in-language social media and alternative social media strategies.
  • Train public information officers and other staff in in cutting out jargon in communications.
  • Develop a glossary of frequently used terms in multiple languages to be utilized in rapid response situations.
  • Work with City departments to gather pertinent data on immigrant and refugee utilization of services.
  • Develop a process to analyze community needs and measure progress.
  • Create a system to evaluate communication strategy effectiveness.


Improve the experience of limited English proficient residents seeking access to City programs and services.

Presenter talking with Ready to Work participants.

  • Utilize an “interpretation graphic” to visually inform residents when interpretation/translation is available upon request, which will make it easier to find programs, services, rules, and regulations.
  • Develop an easy process for residents to file complaints around interpretation and translation that will integrate with other complaint-based systems at the City of Seattle, and expand community outreach to include education on the complaint process.
  • Build in consistent feedback processes to improve Language Access strategies by getting input from City employees and community members.


Find Out More

For more information about the City's equitable Language Access policies, contact Maha Jahshan at (206) 615-0195 or

Banner photo credit: Nate Gowdy Photography.