In the past twenty years, the need for interpreters in Pennsylvania's courtrooms has increased significantly. According to the United States Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey, 1,237,714 Pennsylvanians, approximately 10.3% of the population, speak a language other than English at home. Of course, this does not mean that more than a million Pennsylvanians do not speak English. The same survey reported that 62.6% of Pennsylvanians who speak a language other than English at home state that they speak English "very well."
Nevertheless, this means that more than 462,000 Pennsylvanians acknowledge that they have limited English proficiency. Thousands more Pennsylvanians are deaf or hard of hearing to the point where they have an inability to understand or communicate the spoken English language.
This communication barrier is a serious access to justice issue that must be addressed to enable all Pennsylvanians to fully participate in judicial proceedings and court services.
In 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a Language Access Advisory Group, consisting of judges, court administrators, court interpreters, legal services providers and elected government officials, to prepare a statewide plan to guide the judiciary in meeting communications challenges by providing quality language access services to non-English-speaking and deaf court users.
The Language Access Advisory Group has concluded its work and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has approved the 49-page Language Access Plan. Among the elements of the Plan are increased language access training, new data collection procedures, boosting the availability of translated local court forms and signage, developing methods for early identification of a need for language services and creating procedures to monitor language access complaints.