Individuals with Limited English Proficiency and Literacy

In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey indicated that more than 25 million people had limited English Proficiency (LEP), which accounts for 9% of the U.S. population that is aged five years and older. Also, in 2015, more than 20% of those LEP individuals lived in households with annual incomes below the official poverty level. In the past ten years, most communities across the U.S. experienced growth in its immigrant population and increase in languages spoken.1

Language and culture provide context for how a person can interpret information. A person is influenced by their cultural beliefs and values and may interpret a public health message differently than someone else. Therefore, a message cannot always be directly translated and guarantee comprehension and ensure readability. Some words do not have the same meaning when translated. Language and literacy barriers can affect a person’s ability to understand how to protect themselves during an emergency.1 When planning for emergencies, it should include culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) for identified disproportionately affected populations in jurisdictions across Connecticut.

For effective communication planning with LEP and limited literacy individuals, it is important to engage partners who have established relationships within the specific community. Partners will include information networks that these individuals normally turn to for information. These partners can also test messages for the recipients and maximize the understanding and action. Also, these partners can be an outlet for disseminating significant information. It is important to ensure that communication strategies are culturally and linguistically appropriate and respect people’s beliefs, practices, and needs of the population. Therefore, a diverse group of partners is key to address the varied needs of the LEP communities.1 On the CLAS website, they include a useful checklist of accommodations that services should provide, Enhanced National CLAS Standards.

Resources for Those with Limited English Proficiency and Literacy

  • National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care
    • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards as a way to improve the quality of services provided to all individuals, which will ultimately help reduce health disparities and achieve health equity.
  • CT Ready! Personal Preparedness Guide
    • This preparedness guide teaches “what” and “what not” to do to keep safe in an emergency situation. This guide is offered in 10 different languages: Chinese, English, French, Italian, Kreyol, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
  • Guidance to Help Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Providers Comply with Title VI of Civil Rights Act
    • In August of 2016, the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security and Transportation issued guidance to help recipients of federal funding for emergency preparedness, response and recovery services to not discriminate against individuals and communities on the basis of race, color, or nation of origin.
  • Cultural Competency Curriculum for Disaster Preparedness and Crisis Response
    • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a webpage for the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate services and how to use those services throughout a disaster.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response Fact Sheet
    • The Cultural and Linguistic Competency in Disaster Preparedness and Response section describes how to include cultural competency with disaster plans. It was created by Public Health Emergency which is a website by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
  • A Guide to Build Cultural Awareness: American Indian and Alaska Native Cultural Card
    • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created an American Indian and Alaska Native Culture Card to help build cultural awareness. This guide enhances the cultural competence when working with these communities, covers regional differences, cultural customs, spirituality, communication styles, the role of veterans and older adults, and health disparities.
  • Show Me for Emergencies
    • The Massachusetts Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management created a toolkit called Show Me to assist with communication between individuals with communication challenges and public health and emergency management personnel and volunteers during times of incidents or emergencies. There are two mobile apps and one paper based tool.
  • Developing Cultural Competency in Disaster Mental Health Programs
    • SAMHSA created a manual that gives background information, guiding principles, recommendations, and resources for developing culturally competent disaster plans for mental health services. It gives tips on how to work with refugees and specific guidelines for using interpreters.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Access and Functional Needs Toolkit: Integrating a Community Partner Network to Inform Risk Communication Strategies. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).