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date: 23 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Language mediates every aspect of social work, and the ability to communicate effectively with and about clients is a paramount responsibility that rests with the social worker. This responsibility extends to clients who do not speak, understand, read, or write fluently in the dominant language, either because they speak other languages or because of communication-related disabilities. This category may include individuals with learning disabilities, speech disorders, aphasia, autism spectrum disorders, specific language impairment, and physical impairments that impact language production, among other conditions. Primary concerns include disparities in access to services; the need for training on working with interdisciplinary teams; minimizing bias, micro-aggressions, and stereotyping; and issues related to translation, interpretation, and intercultural communication. In addition to these concerns, linguistically diverse populations are often excluded from research, resulting in gaps in knowledge about their needs. Service accommodations for language minorities tend to focus on translation and interpretation; however, research suggests that social workers also need to understand and guard against unconscious bias, and learn to use affirmative language to support the well-being of clients rather than pathologizing them. Clients with communication disabilities, on the other hand, may have distinct or overlapping needs, and service organizations rarely address the language support needs of these two populations within one unified framework. Service providers may waste precious time and effort navigating multiple, overlapping policy directives. Information on the policy context in the United States and the European Union related to language rights and language access provides a background for this topic.

Keywords: communication, access to services, cultural sensitivity, social justice, language access

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