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WASHINGTON, D.C.--Mangamana Kao made multiple trips last year to the District of Columbia’s public benefits office to get the medical assistance and food stamps he could rightfully receive as a legal immigrant from Togo. On each visit, he made a simple request that was always –and illegally--denied: He asked for a interpreter who could translate into French, his primary language in Togo.
Kao, 42, felt frustrated during these exchanges with government employees, yet he never understood that D.C. officials were breaking the law until he met a language-access advocate last summer at a Togolese social event. She told him about his rights under the Language Access Act, signed into law by then-Mayor Anthony Williams in 2004.
“That’s when I realized that when you don’t know your rights, you are being mistreated,” Kao said in an interview.