ATA’s Virtual Advocacy Trip to Capitol Hill

The pandemic couldn’t stop ATA members from participating (virtually) at not one, but two advocacy events, ensuring the interests of all our members—from individual practitioners to corporations—were well represented.

The voices of ATA members were heard on Capitol Hill this spring at not one, but two virtual advocacy events focused on the language enterprise. In February, as the new administration and Congress were just settling in and cabinet members were awaiting their confirmation hearings, the annual Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) Language Advocacy Days took place, joined a few weeks later by the Association of Language Companies’ ALC On the Hill event. Several representatives from ATA were present at both events, ensuring the interests of all our members—from individual practitioners to corporations—were well represented.

Language Advocacy Days

JNCL-NCLIS is the authority on language policy in Washington, DC. The annual Language Advocacy Day (which was extended to two days this year) is an anchoring event for the entire language enterprise, bringing together educators, policy makers, and the language industry. This big-picture approach allows us to connect the dots for our representatives and senators on how language learning and access support our national security, as well as domestic and international economic growth in the United States.

Every year, ATA lends its voice as one of the advocates from the language professions to meet with Congress and request legislation and funding in support of language education and industry priorities. In addition to numerous language educators, several translator and interpreter sister organizations participate. This year’s virtual event saw a jump in attendance, with participants from every state for the first time.

A definite highlight was when ATA Director Lorena Ortiz Schneider was named the recipient of the 2021 J. David Edwards Power of Advocacy Award, which recognizes extraordinary advocacy efforts carried out at the state or federal level that contribute to the JNCL-NCLIS mission and serve to expand access to languages other than English. In addition to serving on the Board, Lorena chairs ATA’s Advocacy Committee.

ALC on the Hill

The Association of Language Companies (ALC) is a U.S.-based organization that promotes the professional stature and economic position of the language services industry through advocacy and the professional development of language company owners and senior management. The ALC on the Hill event in March was their second foray into direct advocacy and was entirely focused on industry issues. Though the event was smaller in terms of participants, this was an opportunity to reinforce many of the messages congressional staffers had heard a few weeks before during Language Advocacy Days. ALC was also able to bring the unique perspective of small business owners to the forefront.

Two Events with a Unifying Focus

There were many issues on the agendas of both events, with some overlap, but the unifying focus was on the foundational need to support language education and the work of interpreters and translators in this country. Not surprisingly, the pandemic and language access loomed large, as did legislation relating to our business models. Here are some of the initiatives discussed (see the sidebar for more information on some of these):

  • Address independent contractor/employee misclassification issues in the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PROAct) by altering or removing the ABC test (Senate only; PROAct already passed the House)
  • Co-sponsorship of the Coronavirus Language Access Act (once re-introduced)
  • Co-sponsorship of the Health Equity and Accountability Act (once re-introduced)
  • Task the U.S. Government Accountability Office to report on the implementation of regulations related to the acquisition of knowledge-based services
  • Raise the small business threshold for language schools
  • Invite members of Congress to join America’s Language Caucus, a bipartisan and bi-cameral caucus
  • Co-sponsorship of Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce, which allows savers to use 529 funds to pay for professional certification preparation, testing, and re-certification (including continuing education) (once introduced)
  • Funding (via appropriations) for the World Language Advancement and Readiness Act
  • Co-sponsorship of the Bilingual Education Seal and Teaching Act (once introduced)

The biggest change this year, besides the new administration, was that both events were held virtually. There was some concern that not being able to personally visit the hallowed marble hallways and imposing architecture of the U.S. Capitol building would result in smaller events. In fact, the opposite was true. With the hurdle of travel and the costs associated with it removed, both events saw record attendance. Congressional staffers were also working from home, many still reeling from the violence of January. Much of the formalities fell away with the virtual format, and there was a palpable eagerness to get back to the business of governing.

Making Connections while Strengthening Our Voices

The primary benefit of these events is not the one-off meetings. It’s the connections that we build year on year—the same connections that allow ATA to continue its advocacy efforts throughout the year. If you want to make sure your own voice is heard, we urge you to visit the JNCL-NCLIS website ( and sign up for the newsletter and action alerts, which will help you with messaging and targeting that message to your state’s congressional members. Also, be sure to bookmark the ALC website ( to read more about the many ways they are supporting language services companies of all sizes.

For More Information

America’s Language Caucus

Association of Language Companies

ATA Advocacy and Outreach

Joint National Committee for Languages—National Council for Languages and International Studies

Joint National Committee for Languages—National Council for Languages and International Studies Legislative Action Center

Protecting the Right to Organize Act

Caitilin Walsh, CT is an ATA-certified French>English translator who delights in producing publication-quality translations for the computer industry and food lovers alike. A past president of ATA, she currently chairs ATA’s Education and Pedagogy Committee. She also serves as president-elect of the Joint National Committee for Languages. She teaches ethics and business practices at the Translation and Interpreting Institute at Bellevue College. She is also chair of the Translation and Interpretation Advisory Committee for the Puget Sound Skills Center. She is a graduate of Willamette University and the Université de Strasbourg.

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