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D.C. Elected Officials Required to Have Translators on Official Visits

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    Elected officials in the district now must have foreign language translators with them when they visit businesses and residents on official business. (Published Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014)

    Elected officials in the district now must have foreign language translators with them when they visit businesses and residents on official business, a change following a News4 report that showed Mayor Vincent Gray becoming frustrated while trying to speak with an Ethiopian shop keeper.

    Ethiopian community leaders are still upset about this encounter between Gray and a shop keeper in Petworth last year

    “Oh it was outrageous,” Ethiopian community organizer Bekele Wolde said.

    Wolde spoke with the clerk after the incident.

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    [DC] D.C. Mayor Conducts Door-to-Door Search for Drug Paraphernalia, Runs Into Language Barrier
    News4's Mark Segraves went door-to-door with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray Thursday as he asked merchants in the Petworth neighborhood whether or not they sold illegal drug paraphernalia. However, the mayor reached a tough language barrier with an Ethiopian shopkeeper, and intently questioned him despite a lack of understanding. (Published Thursday, July 18, 2013)

    “The pain was so much, and when I really started talking to him, he couldn’t even finish the statements that he wants to tell me and he broke into tears and I really understood the pain,” Wolde said.

    Language access advocates applauded the mayor’s decision to institute the new guidelines.

    “This protocol ensures that the government and the community at large in D.C. can effectively communicate because we have a very diverse population in D.C. and a lot of different languages,” said David Steib of the D.C. Language Access Coalition.

    According to the Language Access Coalition, 16 percent of D.C. residents are foreign born. One in 20 residents say English is not their primary language, and a third of the businesses in D.C. are run by immigrants

    The new guidelines are an important step forward, Gray said.

    “If it does enhance communication, which facilitates relationship, of course it’s something I would be supportive of,” he said.