To ensure the safety and health of all residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, accurate and timely information needs to be made available and readily accessible in multiple languages, including ASL (American Sign Language). Denying equitable language access to critical information, by overlooking the needs of residents whose primary language is not English exacerbates the risk for all. City leaders can set the tone in their communities and pave the way to require multilingual information dissemination by:
- Seizing the opportunity to better understand how we are all affected when some of us lack the protections of a safety net.
- Lifting–up the medical and social needs of any marginalized members of our communities.
City leaders can provide COVID-19 related information and resources in the top spoken languages in their community, including English and others. Leverage existing content, from the state and federal government and the CDC.
According to the Census Bureau, as of 2018, 25.6 million residents (or 38% of the nation’s population) self–reported speaking English “less than very well.” Providing reliable and timely information during crisis management is key to flattening the curve and limiting the community spread of COVID-19. In addition to providing information on how to practice safe social distancing, where to get tested and where the food access points are, it is key to disseminate multilingual information related to loan assistance for businesses and other resources available to those who may be disparately impacted by the public health and economic fallout from COVID-19.
- Seattle, WA The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) and other city departments are working in close coordination with partners at the local and state level to provide the most accurate information about COVID-19.
- Atlanta, Georgia: Atlanta published new information related to their shelter-in-place order and the broader fight against COVID-19, including loan assistance for businesses and health handouts in more than 20 languages.
- San Diego, California: San Diego has provided COVID-19 alert posters in 10 languages; other informational materials are available across multiple languages as well.
- Orange County, California: The city has embedded Google translate onto the website and has ensured that the FAQs (which are frequently updated) are immediately translatable.
- Boulder City, Nevada: The city has integrated Google translate onto its website.
City leaders can provide multilingual capacity for tools like phone hotlines and social media.
Recognize that the digital divide may hamper people’s ability to access online content and that having a hotline to dial may be more accessible to those who may have trouble navigating the internet, either because of connectivity issues or language barriers.
- El Paso, Texas: The city’s Public Health department has set up a hotline focused on COVID-19 information. Callers can speak to someone in English or Spanish. A language line will be able to translate more than 240 languages as well.
- San Diego,: San Diego, CA has retooled its 2-1-1 number specifically around providing coronavirus information; officials on the county’s helpline can communicate in 200 different languages
- Boston, MA: Boston ensures that the text alert system about COVID-19 is available in five languages.
City leaders can work across local government jurisdictions and with trusted partners in your community to accurately and efficiently disseminate information.
Many communities whose predominant language is other than English may be distrustful of the government. Leveraging trusted partners and messengers that are embedded members of these communities may be a more effective strategy to disseminate accurate information.
- New York City Housing Authority: NYCHA is working with the city of New York to disseminate accurate information in multiple languages, including rent hardship flyers, a series of letters to public housing and Section 8 residents and a COVID-19 safety resident letter has been translated into 8 additional languages – Arabic, French, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, Urdu, Yiddish, Polish
- Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is partnering with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in its efforts to ensure families are receiving COVID-19 information. The two have teamed up specifically to support multilingual translation and interpretation services.
- Fresno, California: Some local school districts are working to make sure non-English speaking parents are getting the most current COVID-19 information in their languages. Fresno Unified has issued its most recent parent alerts in Spanish and Hmong. Central Unified School District has also been issuing its updates, including online learning resources, in Spanish and Punjabi.
City leaders can ensure access to reliable and accurate information about COVID-19 in ASL and English.
Municipalities can ensure that deaf and signing residents are receiving the information that they need to combat the spread of COVID-19. Resources and materials should be made available in ASL (American Sign Language) or through captioned or written media.
- North Carolina has created a series of videos in ASL to convey critical information about COVID-19.
- Boston, Massachusetts: The mayor’s COVID-19 related press conferences have provided ASL interpretation on live streams.
- Washington: The Washington Department of State Health has published information videos on COVID-19 for the ASL community.
- San Antonio, Texas: San Antonio has provided on Testing Information and Prevention Tips in ASL.
City leaders can conduct information campaigns with the help of city volunteers to disseminate information in hard to reach populations.
Acknowledge that some non-English speaking community members may be distrustful of the government and recognize that in-person contact may be needed. Conducting in-person campaigns, at a safe social distance, may be a way to leverage community assets (volunteers) and reach hard-to-reach populations.
- Boston, MA – A team of volunteers and city workers went door to door through several Boston neighborhoods with multilingual COVID-19 information for residents. These pamphlets outlined key details about COVID-19, a list of preventative measures to mitigate the spread, and a compilation of city resources, in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Simplified Chinese, Farsi, Cape-Verdean Creole and Russian.
About the Authors:
Eli Craveiro-Frankel is an NLC intern supporting its constituency groups.