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Professionalizing the Interpreter Role in Kansas

Updated: May 14, 2023

Interpreter Team Learns Language Access Laws and Regulations and Asks Why Kansas does not Consistently Follow Them

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provide strong protections against discrimination in federal agencies and any entity that receives federal funds, including discrimination based on language. Because virtually all healthcare entities participate in Medicaid or Medicare or otherwise take federal funds, failing to provide qualified language access services (i.e., interpreters, translated materials and same-language care) is against the law.

A team of Kansas Spanish-English medical interpreters learned about this legislation at the second Alce su Voz interpreter workshop last Saturday, and they had a burning question: Why is the state of Kansas doing such a poor job at following these laws?

The answer is not simple and includes a combination of an imperfect system for financing healthcare, a lack of respect for the medical interpreter as a professional and an integral member of the healthcare team, ignorance of the legal requirements, and racism and xenophobia. Furthermore, many healthcare institutions in Kansas do not have a language access plan and a language access coordinator.

Saturday’s interpreter workshop was held at the Evergreen Community Center and Library, and Mara Youdelman of the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) presented to the team over Zoom about the legal framework for healthcare language access, including Title VI and Section 1557. She also described a new rule proposed by the Biden-Harris Administration that would strengthen civil rights protections under Section 1557.

The objective of the Alce su Voz interpreter team is to work toward the professionalization of the interpreter role in Kansas, a process that will improve the state’s ability to comply with Title VI and Section 1557.

On Saturday, the team identified the following steps needed to meet this objective:

  • Improve awareness among interpreters of the available trainings and on how to become a certified medical interpreter,

  • Train healthcare workers on the implementation of Title VI and Section 1557,

  • Continue to educate the community about their rights and dismantle the assumption that patients’ children and other family members or friends should be involved in the interpreting process, and

  • Ensure continued support from the state government and acknowledgement of the labor and revenue generated by the Hispanic/Latinx community.

Alce su Voz is already working toward these targets. The upcoming interpreter workshops will address medical terminology and opportunities for training and certification. You can register for our July 15 workshop on medical terminology here. We will also offer a free 40-hour interpreter training on selected Saturdays between August and September 2023 (an amazing deal because this usually costs $600). This training is a requirement for the national interpreter certification.

In addition, our Community Engagement and Education team, led by Denise Romero of Salud + Bienestar, is raising awareness among Spanish-speaking community members about their rights, and our Hospital and Clinic Engagement team, led by Dr. Nikki Keene Woods of the Wichita State Department of Public Health Sciences, is conducting a study to survey the language access policies and procedures at Kansas healthcare institutions.

Finally, we will be collaborating with the Latino Community Network to hold a Latinx Leadership training on June 10 (time and location TBD).

Over the next several months, the interpreter team, led by its directors Rommy Vargas-Bezzubikoff of Spanish Ad Hoc Translations and Marixendra Alvarez of CJS Translation Services, will collaborate to facilitate team discussions that will lead to a white paper on our agenda for the professionalization of the interpreter role. If you are interested in being part of this team or participating in the 40-hour training, please contact Mrs. Vargas at rommyvargasb@yahoo.com.

Alce su Voz encourages medical interpreters and patients who need/utilize healthcare interpreting services to follow the progress of the new proposed rule addressing non-discrimination provisions under ACA’s Section 1557. In her presentation, Ms. Youdelman predicted that there will be challenges to educate providers and patients about the rule when finalized. You can read NHeLP’s Q&A document about the proposed rule here, and you can read the comments submitted by Ms. Youdelman and other NHeLP leaders on the proposed rule here.

If you feel that a healthcare institution has discriminated against you by not providing you with the services you need for successful communication during your healthcare encounter, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. You can also share your story with Alce su Voz; to do so, please contact Verónica Mireles at veromil.02@gmail.com.

Alce su voz is a community-based coalition whose mission is to improve health equity for Spanish speakers and speakers of indigenous languages in the United States, with a focus on Kansas and the Midwest. For more information or to get involved, please send an email to alcesuvoz@gmail.com. You can also join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


(Pueden leer esta publicación en español aquí.)

This blog post was supported by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $375,000 with 100 percent funded by OMH/OASH/HHS. The contents are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor endorsement by OMH/OASH/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/


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