Language access for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals is mandated by federal, state and local law. To many immigrant and newcomer communities, language access is a civil right and one of the key paths to full and meaningful participation in a democracy.
The San Francisco Language Access Ordinance (LAO), formerly known as the Equal Access to Services (EAS) Ordinance, was enacted in 2001 to provide "equal access to city services to all San Franciscans, including those with limited proficiency in English."
The LAO requires the Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) to oversee citywide compliance with language access laws and to provide a summary report to the Immigrant Rights Commission, Board of Supervisors and Mayor indicating which departments have filed their annual language access plans as required by the LAO.
The LAO compels City and County departments to provide their services in English and in the languages spoken by substantial populations of limited English speaking persons. In August 2009, the ordinance was amended to include additional language requirements of city services, and to expand the list of "Tier One" departments.
The LAO defines "Tier One" departments as those departments with a high volume of interaction with the public, especially with LEP communities. All other departments and city commissions are termed "Tier Two" departments. Tier One departments now include: