Columbus plan goals to beat language limitations for residents

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The City of Columbus is working on a new plan to help the department’s staff overcome language barriers when communicating with residents with limited English language skills.

The initiative, called Columbus Language Access Policy, aims to create a more efficient process for city employees to use translation and interpreting services so they can better serve the city’s linguistic minorities.

The numbers suggest a clear need. In Columbus, around 16% of the population speak a language other than English, according to information research from the World Population Review, which is based on census data.

Currently, some city councils have contracts with translators and interpreters, but most employees are unaware of these services or how to access them, said Councilor Emmanuel Remy, who leads the project he hopes will be implemented next year.

“In some cases, there have been delays that resulted in a resident returning with a family member who could actually help translate,” Remy said.

He added that many have to rely on their children to interpret if they have a problem with their bill or need a building permit.

The new language access policy requires every department to have a poster on the wall showing a range of language options, and visitors can simply point to the language they want to use. The city’s employees will then follow step-by-step instructions to reach the respective interpreter over the fixed network.

In the case of printed documents, the city only translates key forms into all important languages ​​for cost reasons. However, the new plan includes detailed instructions for employees to translate other forms as needed.

The city is conducting surveys to determine which languages ​​the initiative will cover. About 110 different mother tongues are spoken, according to Ohio residents Ohio Department of Education Estimates. The new initiative is likely to focus on Spanish, Somali, Nepali, French, Arabic and Persian, Remy said.

“There might be some problems along the way,” he said. “The bigger challenge is just getting the departments on the same page. … The goal is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak to the city council that serves them. “

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Immigrant and refugee lawyers have been trying to get the city to adopt a more efficient voice access system for years, said Sudarshan Pyakurel, executive director of the Bhutan community in central Ohio.

Pyakurel serves a predominantly Nepalese-speaking population and regularly visits and calls the city authorities on behalf of the parishioners. Some may drive 20 minutes from nearby towns like Reynoldsburg or Westerville just to get Pyakurel’s help to report a missed garbage collection.

“Before Councilor Remy, there wasn’t anyone who really listened and took action to say this was a problem,” said Pyakurel. “The city did not provide the resources to address this. They fight.”

Community leaders also said the city is not making sufficient use of existing interpreting services, making it difficult for residents who don’t speak English to interact with city staff in real time.

Us together, a local refugee resettlement agency, has a long-standing relationship with the Department of Neighborhoods to translate written materials into 19 different languages, said Kristina Brooks, compliance manager for interpreting services for the group. However, the city has not asked US Together to interpret phone calls or face-to-face visits.

The resettlement agency is currently providing interpreting services to several district agencies, Brooks said.

Executives at the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, a local non-profit group with an in-house voice access team, said their services were also underutilized by the city. While the group regularly translates documents for the Department of Neighborhoods, it has received fewer than 10 interpreter requests from city officials in the past three years, according to Josué Vicente, the coalition’s executive director.

Vicente said, however, that he believes the problem goes deeper than the procedural challenges.

“Immigrants are severely discriminated against, people who don’t speak English,” said Vincente. “There is a lot of intolerance from the people who work for the city.”

Vincente recalled one case when a Coalition Latino customer visited the Department of Building and Zoning Services to submit a zoning plan so he could start his own construction company. But, said Vincente, the clerk who had received the resident refused to explain the process to him or put him through a Spanish interpreter.

“The clerk was rude and basically pushed this guy away,” Vicente said. “Nobody wants to hear that, but that’s another problem the city has to deal with.”

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Remy said he was optimistic that the initiative would alleviate these challenges. But the city council is currently working on the details of the new plan.

For example, the city’s customer service center 311 currently only hosts English, Spanish, Somali, and Nepali. Remy’s team is looking for ways to improve the call center so that more residents can reach it.

Remy said the initiative is likely to cost more than $ 75,000 annually based on the experience of peer cities like Dayton, which already have a voice access policy.

“I’m very confident that with the service providers out there and the technology we have today, we can put something together this year and move something towards implementation in 2022,” said Remy.

Yilun Cheng is a member of the Report for America Corps and handles immigration issues for The Dispatch. Your donation, which equals our RFA grant, will help her write stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

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@ChengYilun