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

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.

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Wolde spoke with the clerk after the incident.

“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.

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