By VALERIA GONZÁLEZ | June 4, 2020 at 12:00 pm
The coronavirus pandemic has intensified long-standing inequities caused by language barriers, underscoring challenges that non-English speakers face accessing critical information during public health emergencies.
According to an article from The Hill, “Non-English-speaking communities are increasingly concerned that coronavirus information is being communicated to them after the rest of the country and in less detail, creating a divide that could put minority groups at greater risk of contracting the virus…specific language needs can vary from community to community.” (The Hill, Language barriers hamper coronavirus response).
Canal Alliance’s team is helping bridge those gaps by reaching the Spanish-speaking community with timely information related to not only COVID-19 news and resources, but also to education, health, public charge rulings and immigration.
“We have a bilingual (English/Spanish) team available to help our clients understand what the crisis is; what shelter in place means; how to access resources, including food, emergency funds, and rental assistance, and how to navigate the unemployment process,” said Jessica Marker, Canal Alliance’s Social Services Senior Manager. “When information isn’t readily available, these services are crucial.”
Clients also need support with unfamiliar processes, such as filing an unemployment application.
“It’s more than just the application; it’s also helping them understand all the paperwork they’ll receive in the mail and then following up with them after they receive the paperwork,” Jessica said. “It’s a very confusing and scary time for clients. Having staff available to walk them through all these steps and to help them anticipate what’s coming next is a tremendous support in terms providing language access to the community. In many ways, it’s about literacy, information access, familiarizing them with our culture and processes, and also tech literacy access. The role of our team is really vital to all that.”
In addition, key resources about accessing aid from government agencies and service providers can be unwieldy or difficult to understand, even in Spanish.
“This doesn’t work for conveying complex information,” says Omar Carrera, CEO. “They’re not thinking of the user experience. There’s a lack of understanding of the population they’re trying to reach regarding education and literacy levels, as well as other complex cultural, social, economic, and political factors that impact a person’s ability to understand such information.
To reach certain audiences, we need to include graphics, video, audio and other communications strategies.”
Those additional resources help communicate with people who have low levels of literacy in Spanish, or those who don’t speak Spanish as their primary language.
It’s not currently known how many people speak indigenous languages in the Canal. Because information is not currently provided in indigenous languages, Canal Alliance is increasingly supplementing written information with images, infographics, and video and audio formats for those who either have a limited understanding of Spanish or who exclusively speak an indigenous language.
Omar adds that, “not all clients can read the Spanish-language guide we put together, so we recognize the need to create a video to accompany that guide. To help us create more accessible guides and video recordings, we’re bringing on a part-time staff person. While we work to figure out how to have a bilingual staff member at the ready to provide information, at the same time we’re creating resources in formats that make information more easily accessible to the community.”
While Canal Alliance is working to inform the Spanish-speaking community, it also relies on the strong bonds of the Canal neighborhood itself, where residents spread the word about our programs.