Flushing councilwoman passes two measures to improve 311 experience for residents lacking English proficiency

Councilwoman Sandra Ung
Councilwoman Sandra Ung discusses her two bills unanimously passed by the City Council to improve services for residents who lack English proficiency. (Courtesy of City Council)

The City Council unanimously passed two bills introduced by Councilwoman Sandra Ung that will improve the experience for callers to the 311 Customer Service Line who have limited English proficiency.

In a city where more than 200 languages and dialects are spoken and 1.8 million New Yorkers have limited proficiency in English, 311 callers often have to request translation services from an English-speaking call taker, who may have trouble identifying the caller’s language. This can result in the caller being connected to an interpreter who does not speak the correct language.

“Roughly 25% of New Yorkers are considered to have limited English proficiency, and they deserve the same access to government services and information as their English-speaking neighbors,” Ung said after the Sept. 29 meeting. “Unfortunately, when they call 311, they encounter obstacles and delays accessing the information and resources they need. These two bills will create protocols to ease their connection to an interpreter while releasing data on wait times will provide a level of transparency that will help us understand their experiences when calling 311.”

Intro 296 requires the development of a protocol to identify the languages spoken by callers to 311. It also requires that certain calls that require interpretation services be reviewed to determine if the protocol should be amended or updated. In other cases, the caller does not realize they are waiting for an interpreter and simply hangs up before being connected to someone who can help them.

“There are over 200 languages spoken in New York City, and I appreciate the difficulty of managing a call center like 311 in a city this diverse,” Ung said. “But callers with limited English proficiency should not receive a lesser quality of service when it comes to accessing government services, resources and information.”

Intro 206 requires the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to compile and release data on the wait times for callers to 311 who request translation services to better understand their experiences with the service center.

“New York City is well known for our diversity, including the hundreds of languages spoken throughout our neighborhoods,” Speaker Adrienne Adams said. “It is critical that all New Yorkers can easily access 311 services in their preferred language to receive the assistance and resources they need. The Council’s legislation is an important step to address long-standing issues with 311 and improve transparency on wait times for service requests.”