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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas

Bringing language justice to emergency response

Colorado recognizes the importance of providing information in multiple languages when it comes to voting, now we have the opportunity to provide emergency information in multiple languages as well.

Colorado counties with minority-language populations of at least 2.5% (or 2,000 minority-language speakers) are required to produce sample ballots and actual ballots in that language, under a law passed in 2021. Last year, that meant that at least 20 counties improved access to our elections by offering multilingual ballots.

One of our Tier 1 Priority Bills in this legislative session would incentivize similar language justice in emergency response, including live interpretation for 911 calls. Having emergency alerts go out in multiple languages provides equity by prioritizing the safety of all residents of our state.

There are more than 40 languages spoken in Colorado – and yet emergency notifications only go out in English. Nearly 300,000 Coloradans do not speak English as the primary language in their home. If they get an alert in English they will then need to translate that alert into the language they understand, causing a delay in acting or a misunderstanding of what they need to do.

House Bill 1237, Inclusive Language in Emergency Situations, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Velasco and Sen. Perry Will, recognizes the importance for our communities to update their emergency alert systems to ensure we are protecting all of our residents. Language should not be a barrier for our communities to get themselves out of harm's way.

Given the recent fires and floods in the heavily Latino central-mountain region that we serve, this is an issue directly impacting many of our communities. More importantly, this bill will help remove language barriers in emergency situations, which could be the difference between life and death.

HB-1237 will protect our communities by:

  1. Prioritizing the safety of all individuals during an emergency by directing notifications to go out in multiple languages;

  2. Having the state find a solution so that residents of our state can receive emergency notifications in the language they are most comfortable understanding;

  3. Directing the state to find a way for live interpretation during 911 calls;

  4. Setting a timeframe for when emergency notifications need to be sent in multiple languages.

To stay up-to-date on all of our priority legislation this legislative session, visit our bill tracker.

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