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Translation services urgently needed in Santa Clara County

Translation services urgently needed in Santa Clara County
In a region that speaks approximately 100 languages, people who do not speak English are often unable to follow Santa Clara County government meetings. Reason why urgen translation services in Santa Clara County


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By Brandon Pho. San Jose Spotlight

In a region that speaks approximately 100 languages, people who do not speak English are often unable to follow Santa Clara County government meetings. That could finally change.

The problem became painfully clear last week, when the $11 billion agency had no one available to simultaneously interpret the Board of Supervisors' April 16 discussion on closing the East's only trauma unit. of San José at the Regional Medical Center. 

The hospital has been a lifeline for uninsured Latino residents on the east side, many of whom only speak Spanish. At the meeting, county doctors and hospital leaders spoke only in English about the potentially life-threatening consequences of closing the trauma center.

There was an interpreter who translated public comments from Spanish to English during the meeting, but monolingual Spanish speakers were unable to understand the discussion between officials because the county requires a formal application for that service.

Community organizer and San José resident Gabriel Manrique said the county was inexcusably ill-prepared.

“The county knew there would be non-English speaking or monolingual people at the meeting, especially from the east side. Many community members had asked for a day off work to come and talk because they know the trauma and stroke centers are essential,” Manrique told San José Spotlight. “They were lost when the supervisors argued.”

The matter prompted a public apology from Board President Susan Ellenberg, who acknowledged that the county “dropped the ball” that day.

Ellenberg and other supervisors have questioned the lack of simultaneous translation at county meetings for years, but said it has never been the subject of formal direction from the board.

“When I was an administrator in the San José Unified School District, we had simultaneous translation at every meeting,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight, adding that she was surprised the county didn't offer the same. “I just forgot to more aggressively address the importance of having that same service in the county. One supervisor or another has brought it up at least a couple of times a year. The most likely answer is that it has not come as specific direction or assistance from the board.”

County leaders say they are working on changes.

Curtis Boone, acting county board clerk, said his team is looking at recent technology as well as some examples from other jurisdictions.

“We have work to do,” Boone told San José Spotlight. “My team is already exploring options to see how we can better meet the language needs of the community and expand access and participation in our board of supervisors meetings.”

The county isn't the only one improving its translation services. San Jose began providing in-person human translators at all city council meetings last year after an incident in which Spanish-speaking residents were moved to a different room to listen to the meeting. The city also offers live translation to Spanish and Vietnamese residents via Zoom.

In Sunnyvale, the city is piloting an on-demand AI-based translation service for public meetings through Wordly. The technology offers live translation in more than 50 languages. According to city officials, using AI is more cost-effective and efficient than human translators.

Boone said that while the county explores long-term options, it plans to have simultaneous interpretation available at upcoming short-term county board meetings to encourage resident participation.

As a result of language barriers, Manrique said the community that relies most on Regional's stroke and trauma services has no idea what is about to happen.

“There is also a huge Vietnamese community that does not speak English, so they are not informed either,” Manrique told San José Spotlight. “Many people have to work during the day and would have to take a day off to speak at these meetings, but most of them don't have the luxury of taking a day off.”

Better translation means better civic participation of communities that normally trust the government or turn out to vote and make their voices heard, Manrique highlighted.

“Having interpretation and working harder to inform people will make that connection,” he said.

To read the original note, click here.

You may be interested in: AAPI Legislative Caucus announces package of policy priorities for 2024

Peninsula 360 Press
Peninsula 360 Presshttps://peninsula360press.com
Study of cross-cultural digital communication


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