By Natalie C. Holly
One Brooklyn lawmaker is working to affect change in how vital citywide information is accessed on the web for Haitians and other immigrant groups in New York.
Councilman Jumaane D. Williams (D-East Flatbush) of Brooklyn’s 45th Council District, recently sponsored a bill requiring all city websites to include a feature that translates website text into languages other than English. The “translate” button would allow text to be translated to seven of the most commonly spoken languages, including Haitian Creole.
“It’s simply wrong that many New Yorkers can’t currently access critical city services and information because of language barriers,” Williams, who serves as Deputy Leader of the New York City Council, said. “I am proud we passed important legislation to increase accessibility on city websites. We must make sure that New York City works for all New Yorkers, regardless of whether your first language is English or Haitian Creole.”
Over two million New Yorkers have limited English proficiency. According to census data, just 51 percent of New Yorkers speak English at home. Williams’ district, which includes Flatbush, Flatlands and parts of Midwood and Canarsie, has a significant Haitian population. Twenty-three percent of Williams’ constituents report that English or Spanish is not their primary language.
“Just because your primary language is Haitian Creole, Spanish, Hebrew or Chinese, for example, you should be able to interact with your city government just as anyone else would,” Williams said in a press release. “Speaking a foreign language as your primary language shouldn’t prevent you from learning about tenant’s rights and affordable housing, emergency food assistance, job opportunities, or healthcare benefits; nor should it prevent you from submitting a complaint to 311 online about a dangerous condition.
“This bill will ensure equal access to city services, regardless of one’s background.”
The law, which was passed on Feb. 24, is scheduled to take effect 90 days once signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in the coming weeks.