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What does it mean for a city to be accessible and equitable?

March 8, 2019

Neighborhood Services

Published by:

Neighborhood Services

In 2016, Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a city ordinance called “Establishing Language and Communications Access for City Services.” We are excited to share with you the progress that has been made in this monthly article series. We hope you will support us in making Boston a more accessible place to live, work, and play.

Accessibility planning is about creating an environment in which every person can participate, contribute, and be heard. This is why the Language and Communication Access (LCA) program is a priority initiative for the Mayor. About 17% of Boston residents do not use English as their primary language and around 12% of the City population lives with a disability. Making Boston a more inclusive and equitable city means thinking about accessibility as a practice of equity rather than a protocol or checklist.

Mayor Martin Walsh grins at an older woman mid-conversation at the third annual African American Veterans’ Appreciation Brunch on February 16, 2019.

To begin, it is important to think about the ways in which society has been built to benefit the “mainstream” population. In Boston and most of the United States, “mainstream” means being able to speak English, move freely and independently, and communicate without difficulty, among many other advantages.

When we ask ourselves, “How can we make Boston a better place for everyone?”, it is important to think about how to meet the needs of people who do not share one or more of these mainstream characteristics. It is equally important to recognize that no one is inherently deficient because of who they are or what they have and do not have.

For this reason, the City of Boston is refining how it approaches equity and accessibility. We know that people across Boston’s 23 neighborhoods may speak or use other languages besides English; they may also rely on assistive technology devices to communicate and be understood. There is so much diversity in the ways people relate to language and communications. This is why access is an automatic imperative to this work.

So, you ask, how will the City of Boston create more welcoming and accessible services and spaces? Here are a few ways we intend to start:

  1. Collect feedback about the priorities and needs of people in our main demographic groups
  2. Partner with community organizations to advocate for and raise awareness about language and communications accessibility
  3. Invest in in-house technology, such as assistive listening devices and live interpretation equipment
  4. Maintain a list of multilingual staff and public volunteers who can help interpret or translate
  5. Publicize free interpretation, translation, and Communications Access Real-Time Translation (CART) services for City events, services, or programs
  6. Maintain as close to an eighth-grade reading level as possible for external communications
  7. Provide video captions, audio transcripts, and image descriptions when feasible
  8. Offer options for alternative formatting across published PDF-readable documents
  9. Place language identification cards at every customer service and main reception desk in City Hall
  10. Translate vital documents for each department in the City’s five most common languages
  11. Provide immediate interpretation services through Boston 311, the Mayor’s 24/7 hotline for non-emergencies

These are a few ways that the City of Boston is working to address equity as it relates to language and communications access. We would love to hear your ideas and suggestions on how we can add to this list. You can fill out this form online.

The Language and Communication Access program works to strengthen the City of Boston so that services, programs and activities are meaningfully accessible to all constituents. To learn more, visit Language and Communications Access.