King County, WA is a linguistically diverse community. In some areas, more than 10% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. To create a community where everyone can be healthy and thrive, we must meet the needs of community members who speak a language other than English.
In 2021, the Connect2 Community Network hosted three sessions dedicated to understanding clinical and community partners’ experiences serving community members in languages other than English. We began with a panel featuring Association of Zambians in Seattle, WA (AZISWA), a local community-based organization, and International Community Health Services (ICHS), a regional Federally Qualified Health Center, sharing their expertise working with a multilingual community. Next, we co-hosted a session with the King County Department of Human Services Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) to hear what support clinical and community organizations need to better serve multilingual communities. And lastly, our Connect2 Community Network Partner meeting in November was dedicated to sharing what we learned from these conversations and proposing language access focus areas for 2022. Here are a few highlights from our sessions:
Leaning on multilingual staff and community members for language services must be done equitably
Many organizations understand that hiring multilingual staff who are part of the communities they serve is very valuable. One organization even reported creating a pool of community members who are compensated to provide translation and interpretation services. For these types of arrangements to be equitable, organizations must be intentional about recognizing translation and/or interpretation as part of staff members’ jobs and compensating adequately for these valuable skills.
Translation and interpretation are specialized skills, and staff and community members should receive training on best practices before being asked to deliver these services. For the community, this type of capacity building can open beneficial opportunities. Organizations must also recognize that clients may have privacy concerns about sharing their experiences with interpreters who are part of their community, especially round topics that are sensitive or hold cultural stigma.
Professional interpretation and translation services improve service delivery, but they can be costly
Some organizations shared that they rely on language lines to deliver linguistically appropriate services to community members. These are phone lines that connect organizations and clients with real-time interpretation services at any time of the day. However, not all organizations can access these resources due to the cost associated with them. King County Department of Human Services (through VSHSL funding) offers translation and interpretation services to some organizations funded by the levy, and services covered by Medicare can access . For organizations that cannot access these resources, exploring the option of cost sharing for these services is one of the possible 2022 focus areas that was presented to Connect2 Community Network Partners.
Serving the community goes beyond language – it’s about trust and relationships
Access to interpretation and translation is only one piece of serving community members who do not speak English. For these community members to feel comfortable sharing their stories and experiences, particularly on topics that may carry cultural stigma such as substance use disorder or homelessness, organizations must build trust and grow their cultural competency and humility. Furthermore, interpreters and translators must understand cultural nuance to convey messages accurately, and in the case of written communications, at the right literacy level. When Network Partners were presented with possible language access activities for 2022, the majority would choose to focus on deepening relationships with organizations that already serve multilingual communities, in recognition that these organizations already hold the trust required to meet the community’s needs.
The insights partners shared will continue to shape how the Connect2 Community Network embeds language access into our work, and ultimately works towards language justice. If you are interested in being part of conversations on language access, register for the March Connect2 Community Network Partner meeting or reach out to our Community Engagement Manager, Sully Moreno.
Find the Connect2 Community Network’s full language access assessment here.