Immigrant & Refugee Advocates and Elected Officials Celebrate the Passage of the Erie County Language Access Act

Buffalo, NY—Today, Partnership for The Public Good, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), Language Access Working Group, elected officials and community members held a press conference celebrating the passage of the Erie County Language Access Act.

The Erie County Legislature passed the Erie County Language Access Act, a county-wide, comprehensive language access law mandating the development of department-specific Language Accessibility plans, practices and training for the Top 6 languages, including American Sign Language, utilized by community members in the County.

The passage of this bill marks a historic victory for Erie County, making it the only county legislation for language access to exist outside of New York City, and the first time this language access legislation will have been passed by a county legislature in New York State.

The bill is now going to County Executive Mark Polancarz’s desk to sign and become law.

The rally was streamed on Facebook Live:


Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, District 1:

“This was a very important piece of legislation for the residents of my district. The community I represent have seen an increase of residents for whom English is not their first or even second language. This bill allows our new community members the ability to get services they need without the added stress of communication barriers. I’m proud to be a sponsor on this bill.”


Hagar Hafez, Manager of Organizing and Strategy at The New York Immigration Coalition:

"We celebrate the monumental passage of the language access bill in Erie County, marking a historic milestone as it becomes the first county outside of New York City to embrace this transformative legislation. This bill is a vital source of empowerment for our immigrant community, who often confront multiple layers of injustice and experience difficulties advocating for themselves in county-run offices. With its implementation, we can guarantee that language should never impede access to critical services, and opportunities. Through this legislation, we aspire to create a society where immigrant families can live with dignity, fully included and integrated. Every individual deserves the right to access information, express their opinions, and communicate their needs. Together, let us build a more equitable and inclusive community for all." 


Regine Ndanga, Public Health Specialist at Partnership for the Public Good:

“The Language Access Working Group in partnership with Partnership for the Public Good have made significant efforts to improve language access, and we are thrilled to see the language access bill successfully passed. This achievement represents a significant landmark in the history of Erie County, signaling the commencement of the wider tasks that lie ahead for the entire state. We must ensure effective implementation of this law to sustain the victory of language access as a human right for all.”


Talib Abdullah MSW, Executive Director at ACCESS OF WNY:

"In passing Language Access, we're not just adopting a policy; we're upholding the fundamental right to be heard and understood.  It's a bold step towards a society where every voice matters and every person is valued."


Jodie Chibi, Director of People Inc’s Deaf Access Services Program:

“In our work assisting Deaf refugees and immigrants to navigate various social service programs, we see firsthand the enormous inequalities that can occur for so many. Recognizing the multitude of barriers to communication access that exist for those who are Deaf or hard of hearing is a critical step in ensuring civic engagement. Ultimately, this legislation means life-changing improvements for a large group of county residents.”


Community Member Representing Swahili Speaking People:

“Kama wa sema kiswahili, tunatowa shukuruni zetu za zati. Tunashukuru sana kuona wa kubwa wamepitisha sheriya hii. Kwa sababu language access ni jambo la muhimo sana and itatusaidia kabisa kwa mambo ya kuomba hutuma katika ofisini ya Erie County kama vile DSS, na social security. Hii itaweza kurahisisha na kutupatiya nguvu ya kuomba hutuma hizo bila wasiwasi.”

“On behalf of the Swahili speakers, I would like to say thank you to the legislators for passing this bill. Language access is an important thing, and it is going to help us, especially in regards to seeking services from Erie County offices such as DSS and the Social Security Department. This will make it easier for us to seek services without fear or concern.”


Bijoux Bahati, Congolese Community Member:

“The passing of the language access bill is a symbol of recognition for raising the standards of care for our new American community and neighbors. It is a much needed step in the right direction to provide quality services in all aspects of life, including school, government, medical, social, and legal services. Most importantly, it is a relief for so many of our children, who often are in situations to provide language assistance to their caregiver or family instead of focusing on school or being themselves.” 


Chris Broda, Manager of Interpreting and Translation Services at Journey's End Refugee Services:

"The Language Access Bill being passed enhances the ability of local government to serve all its constituents better. It also speeds up the integration and self-sufficiency of our newest neighbors by easing their access to services and helping them understand vital information in times of emergency. Immigrants have contributed so much to the Buffalo Renaissance we are all rightly proud of by revitalizing neighborhoods, opening shops and restaurants, and repopulating the city. The passage of the Language Access Bill in Erie County ensures that our area remains a welcoming place for immigrants from all over the world to settle and thrive and keep our region a dynamic and desirable place to live, work, and visit."


 Steven Sanyu, President, Burmese Community Services:

“...language access law in our County…will help as a bridge between our communities and the government agencies, public health care providers, and all services providers, especially for non-English speakers”


Abdou Edris, Sudanese Community Member:

“After passing the language access bill, we feel that no one in Buffalo will be excluded because of language from the services that they want to obtain, we are all equal.”


Jennifer Connor, Executive Director at Justice for Migrant Families:

“Passing language access in Erie county represents a historic commitment to recognizing how vital the role of language access is in connecting our community. Language access is a justice issue, and it also is a measure of our resilience as a community, one that has faced, and will continue to face immense challenges.”


Jennifer Ulrich, Lead Coordinator of Interpreting & Translation at the International Institute of Buffalo:

“... language access in Erie County is a direct support for all other issues, from housing and food insecurity to unjust incarceration to mental health crisis intervention. Providing comprehensive language access opens doors for all communities.”


Catharine Grainge, Director of Advocacy at Jericho Road Community Health Center:

"At Jericho Road Community Health Center, we often see our patients suffering because important information and services are not available in their language. Whether it's a visit to a specialist's office, a trip to the DMV, or trying to understand weather warnings, when people do not have what they need, none of us can thrive. A lack of language access makes us sick and seeps into every aspect of life. Language Access is life-saving care and we look forward to watching that care grow, right here in WNY."