The Road to Equity is Paved by Trained Interpreters

I recently came across an article I had written, together with a colleague, for Cultures West Magazine – an AMSSA* (Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C.) newsletter in 2006. The article, titled Accessible Health Care: A Response Framework for a Culturally Evolving Community was on the subject of strategies for how the healthcare system could improve its outreach to and inclusion of all members of our diverse community. Reading the article started me thinking how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

My entry into language services came from my passion for social justice and equity. For many years, I worked in intercultural communication, anti-discrimination and anti-racism as a project leader, facilitator, researcher and consultant. I was led to this work in the late 1980’s, after having volunteering overseas in South America and became passionate about the issues it involved. It was during my time at MOSAIC as the interpreting services manager that I soon realized how important language truly is in its role as a gateway to equity, justice, and most importantly, to the formation of a cohesive society. You simply cannot have cohesion and a common ground without access to a common language.

In a multicultural and multilingual society, interpreters are the agents of change – not just anyone who is bilingual, but trained and knowledgeable interpreters who are beholden to a common ethical framework, set standard of practice and core competencies to do the work they are trained to do. They are the links that form a society of individuals who can successfully communicate, engage, be heard and fully share all the benefits a nation awards onto its population. Without interpreters, we become a disjointed community, lacking the tools to fully connect.

I may sound a little dramatic (blame it on my Neapolitan heritage), but I believe this to be true. Language can bridge a massive divide that for many, if left as a gulf between client and service provider can, at the extreme, be the difference between life and death or, more commonly, have severe negative impacts on one’s quality of life.

I want to acknowledge that utilizing interpreters does not absolve professionals who serve within a diverse community of the responsibility to consistently practice cultural humility. While professional interpreting services have always been a crucial core component of any access plan, interpreters cannot single-handedly fix the discrimination and racism that exists in Canada. And so more work is always needed.

In going back to the article in AMSSA’s Cultures West magazine which provoked me to write this post, my colleague and I listed 3 fundamental considerations that are critical to the success of a healthcare system in multilingual and multicultural society: these are accessibility, cultural responsiveness and comprehensiveness. These 3 essential factors could never be fully implemented without the inclusion of trained and educated interpreters. Because language is the gateway to inclusion.

I believe that the reason the more things change, the more they stay the same is because reaching the goal of an equitable society is rarely fully achieved, and therefore we continue in our efforts. However, in continuing to work toward this goal, we succeed in making changes that matter and which transform our society for the better.

*To read the original article in Cultures West go HERE

*To find out more about AMSSA