Language Rights are Civil Rights!

New York City is home to communities from every corner of the globe, speaking myriad languages. More than a quarter of the city’s population is not proficient in English. How can you access the city’s basic services for its residents if you don’t speak English? New York City and New York State have passed innovative laws that guarantee everyone the right to an interpreter when accessing government services. But most agencies are only creeping toward compliance with these laws, and many immigrant communities are unaware of their right to an interpreter and routinely denied access to services because they don’t speak English.

In the fall of 2012, CUP teamed up with the Language Access Project at Legal Services NYC and designer Melissa Gorman to create a tool that helps people stand up to discrimination and access the services they need. Language Rights are Civil Rights! is a wallet-size foldout that explains language rights laws and that can be used to ask for an interpreter. The foldout is fully translated into Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Urdu, Korean, Polish, and French – the 10 most commonly spoken languages of the city’s limited English proficient population. 

Language Rights are Civil Rights! is being distributed by Legal Services – NYC and partner organizations throughout the city. 

Resources & Links

Legal Services NYC’s Language Access Project works to ensure that low-income New Yorkers with limited English proficiency (LEP) have access to programs and services for which they are eligible.

Melissa Gorman is a graphic designer, artist, and restaurateur.

Public Access Design is a program of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). Public Access Design projects use design to make complex urban issues accessible to the New Yorkers most affected by them. 

Funding Support

This project is made possible through the generous support of The Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC Cultural Innovation Fund.

Special Thanks

Sam Holleran, Ahsan Kamal, Nadia Khalaf, Sasha Kuznetsov, Monique Lores, Huguens Mercier, Gretta Mogel, Valeria Mogilevich, Adolfo Mogilevich, Martyna Nieszczęsna, Oscar Nunez, Maniza Pritila, Ninaj Raoul, Mark Torrey


  • CUP
  • Project Leads
  • Clara Amenyo
  • Christine Gaspar
    • Legal Services NYC
    • Advocacy Partner
    • Amy Taylor

    • Melissa Gorman
    • Designer