Kentucky interpreters working to bridge language barrier in daily COVID-19 updates

Posted at 9:20 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 21:20:02-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — When Governor Andy Beshear delivers his updates on COVID-19 at 5 p.m. every night, American Sign Language interpreter Virginia Moore is normally by his side to translate for the hearing impaired community.

Hundreds of interpreters are working around the clock in Kentucky to bridge language gaps with their own communities and relay information about the pandemic and the government’s actions to contain its spread.

Richard Ruganirwa is a caseworker with Kentucky Refugee Missions. He spends part of his day translating government documents to languages like Kinyarwanda in addition to helping clients. He’s one of many also making videos in multiple languages to convey important health information to immigrants and refugees in their native tongues.

“This is important because it is a way that they can know what’s going on,” said Ruganirwa.

KRM Community Enhancement Coordinator Derek Feldman weighed in on the importance of providing every person living in Kentucky with information they can comprehend.

“Language is something that I think a lot of us, you know, take for granted because it's just the water that we swim in. But there are a lot of people that need that additional information in their native language so that they can understand it and make good decisions,” said Feldman.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries is also working to assist limited-English speakers apply for unemployment and maneuver through legal language to get government assistance.

The office of Jennifer Reynolds, District 11 Councilmember of the Lexington-Fayette Urban Council, is working to bridge the language gap with the Spanish-speaking community in Lexington.

Reynolds publishes videos in Spanish filling the community in on the latest developments noted in Beshear’s nightly briefings. They’re also updating both English and Spanish websites with information.

“If we have people in our community, in our city, in our state, in our country that don't know what the rules are and the things that are changing and don't have this important information, it's going to affect everybody,” she said.

Writing these translations is time consuming and requires a fluency in various languages that isn’t always readily available. Kentucky Refugee Ministries, for examples, serves people who speak Ukranian, Swahili and Arabic. Feldman said staff and volunteers are working to keep up with the daily updates, but they’re also ensuring they maintain a high degree of quality and accuracy.

“Google Translate is okay in a pinch. It's certainly better than nothing but for this kind of complicated information, it's not the same,” said Feldman. “Just to translate a word isn't quite enough because you don't get the feeling and what the governor is trying to do is also be reassuring.”

If you’d like access to these translations or need help filing for unemployment from a person who speaks your native language, you can find them on the Kentucky Refugee Mission’s facebook page and website.