Oregon State Bar Bulletin — NOVEMBER 2010
Culture of Awareness
State, National Resources on Cultural Competence
By Melody Finnemore

The case involving Santiago Ventura Morales was a watershed moment in Oregon’s legal history. It resulted in the 1995 passage of a law requiring testing and certification of interpreters who work in the courts. That initiated the Oregon Judicial Department’s establishment of Court Interpreter Services (CIS), which provides qualified and certified interpreters to courts throughout the state (http://courts.oregon.gov/CIS).

Today, CIS provides interpretation for 19 languages that range from Spanish to American sign language. Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese make up 80 percent of the language interpretation requests. The remaining 20 percent encompasses 118 languages such as indigenous Mexican, Latin American and Central American dialects, and Native American languages.

CIS has more than 900 interpreters in its database, 115 of whom are certified. In January 2011, the program will begin implementing a “registered” credential, a status that falls between “qualified” and “certified.” Training for that designation will include an English-language assessment, ethics and protocol training, and the demonstrated ability to interpret a designated language, says Kelly Mills, CIS program manager.

The new designation comes as CIS faces skyrocketing demand. Over the last couple of years, Oregon has seen a 307 percent increase in people who aren’t native English speakers, and a 594 percent increase in languages other than Spanish. Each month, CIS receives 2,500 requests for interpreters statewide, according to Mills.

While most of the requests come from the four-county area surrounding Portland, CIS also provides remote interpreter services for cases in the far reaches of the state. In 2003, CIS began providing simultaneous interpreting via telephone for all state circuit courts, and in 2007 it added remote interpreting by video.

In 1994, Oregon joined Washington, New Jersey and Minnesota in forming a consortium intended to make testing and certification of interpreters more consistent. Today the consortium includes 40 states.

While the interpreters’ primary duty is to translate languages, cultural competence is an essential part of their work as well, Mills says.

“Cultural competence is important because it helps when we need to assist people who speak lesser-known languages,” she says.

The following are a sample of the resources available in Oregon and from the American Bar Association for attorneys seeking to learn more about cultural competence:

In 2006, the Oregon Judicial Department issued a report on access to justice for people with disabilities, available at http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/docs/OSCA/cpsd/courtimprovement/

The ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity offers a variety of articles, podcasts and other resources on cultural competence. To learn more, visit http://new.abanet.org/centers/diversity/Pages/default.aspx.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association offers an interactive program, which is described at  http://www.nlada.org/Training/Train_Civil/Equal_Justice/2010_Materials/136_2010_Ridgway_Outline.

Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. 

© 2010 Melody Finnemore

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