Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where the Disconnect Is Not

"We are building a bridge." This is the phrase I heard over and over again at the US Conference on African Immigrant Health (USCAIH) this week.

Last week, I blogged on the disconnect.
I wrote about how our nation’s leaders were unaware of language’s vital role in healing, how people don’t heal if they don’t understand, how interpreting in of itself is a profession with ethics and rules. The disconnect is there.

But here, with community leaders from all throughout the African Diaspora, the disconnect is not. Instead, there is a concerted effort to bring together aspects of all industries that help people--especially Africans--heal.

I arrived here Wednesday. Our first event was a meet and greet where attendees stood and introduced themselves, explaining what their interest was in African health and what they expected to get from the conference. I identified myself as Terena Bell with In Every Language, said I was here to represent the medical interpreting industry, that I had seen this disconnect and I was here to learn how we could fix it. When I sat down, almost every person in the room said “thank you” and some even clapped. An Ethiopian man walked up to me and instantly started talking about the difficulty of getting trained interpreters in Minneapolis, the need for continued training for those entering the profession. A man from Ghana stood up in front of everyone and talked about how interpreters for Muslim patients need to be culturally aware of faith’s role in healing—and better paid. At Harvard, people wondered why I was even there, had never thought of language as a health-related issue. Here, at the USCAIH, attendees were willing to join with the language industry in its fight.

I am not writing this to compare one conference to the next, or the Alliance for Health in the African Diaspora (the conference organizers) to Harvard. What Harvard does not know is clearly to Harvard’s loss. But, just as I had to point out where the disconnect is, I have to point out where the disconnect is not.

So what makes the difference? Why were these two audiences so different?

I have long said that there are two types of doctors in the world: those who want to make sure their patients understand and those who do not. Perhaps there are similarly two types of people: those who want to help people understand and those who do not. I am not calling the other group cold or cruel. But there are people in this world whose drive and desire to improve their world is innate, unavoidable, a moving, liquid force. I saw that this week in the faces of everyone here. Representatives from all across the African diaspora came together to share, to commune, to--as they put it--build a bridge. They, too, talked about breaking down silos, but they took the time to find out what those silos held.

Friday, I presented on language access for African LEP's. Every single person who heard about my topic said thank you, whether they attended my session or not. Dozens of people said, “We need that.” Most had interpreter stories of their own. A keynote on African Americans living with HIV even had a medical interpreter working from French to English. There is clearly no disconnect here.

But there is a need. They need us. And we need them. After what happened at Harvard, and after the warm reception I received here, I completely changed my presentation. It had initially been on where to get materials, how to get professional translation when materials weren’t there already. But meeting these people and learning more about how active they want to be in every area impacting African American health, I changed it.

There are three factors in LEP patient healing: the patient, the provider, and the language professional. All three must be on top of their game for healing to happen. Like our government, they must be in checks and balances with one another—they must all play their role, but they must also listen. For the patient, I discussed Title VI and HIPAA, the need to know you have a right to a professional, medical interpreter. For the provider, I discussed the need for cross-cultural training in universities and from hospital associations as CME’s. For the language professional, I said we must listen. We must listen to the patient and the provider to learn their need before we can address it. I told the people there that we could not do it without them, that if we as a language profession are wrong, then they must make us stop and listen.

And that’s the difference. As a language industry, we have been speaking, but at Harvard, no one had yet listened. I still believe what I wrote and I stand beside my words. But I also feel cool water flowing from around the rock. We must continue client education, but we must also allow our clients to educate us, listening to each other. If we are truly to build a bridge, we must meet each other in the river with our tools.


bonnjill said...

This is definitely more heartening to hear than your blog post on the conference at Harvard. You are doing great things, Terena! Keep it up!

Lynn Fors said...

Thanks Terena. You do the business proud!

Bertha Garber said...

Glad to see the positive response. Great work on your part.

Bertha Garber

Ilse said...

Thanks Terena!

Anonymous said...

Hello Terena
Your blog really struck a note with me. I learned long ago in Nursing, the need to find exactly where the patient is, to be able to include him in his own healing. There is a triad, the doctor, the patient and the nurse. It sound very similar to what you are doing with interpreting.

The client, the service provider and the interpreter also form a triad, with helping as the goal.
I found your post fascinating.

Jessie Nelson RN BSN
French/English medical translator

Corinne McKay said...

Thanks, Terena! This is really heartening to read and thank you for doing such important work. I think that one of the things that pained me so much after reading your previous post is that it mirrored everything that frustrated me when I was a government language contractor. It was a struggle even to push for what we think of as some of the industry's most basic best practices: i.e. translating only into one's native language, having all translations intended for publication reviewed by at least one other person, etc. Awesome post!!

EvelynaR said...

Terena, both of your posts touched a chord! Due to our official bilingualism, Canada is somewhere between these extremes with respect to understanding what is involved in translation and interpreting, and Canadian provincial associations have become a lot more active over the last few years, but there is so much more we should be doing to educate clients and build a bridge between the various cultures in our society.

I hope you won't mind if I propose your posts for publication in the Society of Translators and Interpreters of British Columbia's newsletter. Now if only clients could read them ;-)

Keep up the good work and keep us posted!

Terena Bell - In Every Language said...

Please do feel free to share the blog with your group, Evelyna, and thank you, everyone, for all your kind words.

Keep up the good work, everybody!

John Milan said...

Thanks for the article, Terena. I've been talking up Client Education here in the Carolinas through our local [ATA] chapter, at all of our events. We really need to be doing this countrywide at all levels, whenever we have the opportunity.

In large part, here in the U.S., we are fighting against history. As a continental country, with a northern neighbor that speaks the same language, and the British laying the ground for English as a global lingua franca, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. But little by little, as language-service professionals, can make a difference.

Anonymous said...

This is so encouraging! Yes, we will always find those who do and those who don't--a matter of life. The important issue is not to give up and to understand that client education is a permanent aspect of our profession--that is, every professional translator and interpreter should take ownership of client education and commit to its practice. One should be able to ask a professional T or I "what are you doing in terms of client education?" and a list should be rolling out of the tongue immediately. Your posts provide a great model for us all, Terena. Thank you so very much!