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Breaking Language Barriers: Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Plan to Address Language Barriers and Strengthen Language Access

November 16, 2023

Yesterday, HHS released our new language access plan, which includes critical actions to improve access to HHS programs and services for people with disabilities and/or limited English proficiency. With provisions that specifically address the effective communication and accessibility requirements found in sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the HHS Language Access Plan is the latest in a series of important actions taken by ACL and our partners across federal government over the last several years to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.

News Release

The HHS Language Access Plan is a critical step toward making health care and human services accessible to all; it represents a commitment to equal opportunities and improved health care for all Americans.


Initially Released by HHS on Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took the next step in working to ensure greater access to the life-saving services that it provides for people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and people with disabilities. In releasing the HHS Language Access Plan, HHS joins agencies across the federal government in prioritizing communication in services to the public. Today’s action supports President Biden’s Executive Orders to advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, which aims to improve access to benefits and services across the Administration, including for people with LEP.

“It is 2023 and the fact that kids still have the same experience I had of translating complex medical information for my parents is unacceptable. Children, family members, and others should not be held responsible for translating complicated and emotional information in order for their loved one to access needed care,” said Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Language should never be a barrier to accessing health care and human services. With our updated Plan, we’re representing our unwavering commitment to equity and inclusivity across HHS.”

“The ability to communicate is critical to accessing health and human services and goes beyond the language you speak. Today’s new, strengthened Language Access Plan reaffirms our dedication to breaking down barriers across HHS, promoting inclusivity of communication and making services accessible to everyone, and upholding the principles of equity and justice,” said Office for Civil Rights Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “We stand by our commitment to enforcing the civil rights of every individual in this country, regardless of their language or disability.”

HHS’s plan goes beyond solely addressing language access to individuals with limited English proficiency, by recognizing the effective communication and accessibility requirements of Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to increase inclusivity of communication for persons with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals on the basis of disability in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from HHS, while Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that their information and communication technology, including websites, electronic documents, and software applications, are accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

The updated Language Access Plan sets forth practical guidance, best practices, and action steps in order for HHS Operating and Staff Divisions to develop their own, agency-specific language access plans. The plan also calls for agencies to collect data regarding their language access services in order to increase access to their respective programs, activities, and services for persons with limited English proficiency.

The HHS Language Access Plan is the product of the Department-wide Language Access Steering Committee, which is run by the HHS Office for Civil Rights.  Every part of HHS is invited to participate on the Steering Committee. HHS relaunched the Language Access Steering Committee last year to bolster language access across the Department. This plan applies to all components across the Department:

  • Administration for Community Living (ACL)
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
  • Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • Indian Health Service (IHS)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Assistant Secretary for Administration (ASA)
  • Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR)
  • Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL)
  • Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)
  • Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
  • Departmental Appeals Board (DAB)
  • HHS Chief Information Officer
  • Intergovernmental External Affairs (IEA)
  • Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
  • Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH)
  • Office of the General Counsel (OGC)
  • Office of Global Affairs (OGA)
  • Office of Inspector General (OIG)
  • Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA)
  • Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)

The updated Language Access Plan may be found here:


The updated Language Access Plan will be available in various languages. These translations are forthcoming and once available they can be found here:


If you believe that you or another party has been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, visit the OCR complaint portal to file a complaint online at:

Last modified on 11/16/2023

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