HUDSON — After months of insistence from the immigrant advocacy group Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, Columbia County has added a translation function to its website.
“The general issue for our community is that they don’t have equal access to services not only because of immigration status, but specifically because of language access,” said Bryan MacCormack, executive director of CCSM.
A Times Union analysis of Capital Region counties found the only other counties with translation functions on their websites are Albany and Schenectady. The function allows for website content to be translated into more than 100 languages, powered by Google Translate.
MacCormack said that with the implementation of the new Green Light law, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses, the chasm between those with and without access to information and communication in the county had become more pronounced. For example, many Department of Motor Vehicle services shifted online — including courses and scheduling permit exams — during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving residents on their own when previously CCSM advocates helped them with interpretation in person at the Warren Street DMV.
“It’s really denying equal access to that information and road safety for not only undocumented applicants, but also everybody else on the road,” MacCormack said.
Conversations with county officials about adding a translation function began in April, MacCormack said, and he finally saw the translation button earlier this month.
Since its addition, the translation function has not only helped county residents have equal access to information, but has also allowed for a more efficient workflow in the county clerk’s office.
Columbia County Clerk Holly Tanner said there have been fewer missed appointments and confusion about services or document requirements in the short time since the translation function has been added.
“For people to be able to get their information ahead of time is very helpful … it helps (staff and consumers) feel more comfortable,” she said. “Even if you don’t agree with the theory behind Green Light, it’s really about making government accessible for everybody.”
Albany and Schenectady counties have also just recently added the translation functions to their websites — Albany in February and Schenectady just last week, both at no extra cost. Spokespeople for both counties said feedback from the community has been limited, but that they were looking to improve user experience of their websites.
Rensselaer and Saratoga counties do not have translation functions on their websites. Rich Christ, spokesperson for Rensselaer County, said the county is in the process of redesigning its website and is looking to add a translation function. Saratoga did not respond to questions the Times Union emailed Tuesday.
Meanwhile, CCSM plans to take their language justice campaign to other institutions in the county, particularly law enforcement.
“This is just the beginning of our language justice campaign. We would prefer to work with institutions in a cooperative relationship, but will be escalating our campaign if other institutions don’t heed the example made with the county,” MacCormack said. “It’s a very reasonable ask.”