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Improving language equity at Indiana mass-vaccination sites

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Access to COVID-19 vaccines has gotten easier, but language barriers are still keeping some Hoosiers away from mass-vaccination sites.

The Indiana State Department of Health and LUNA Language Services are offering services to those who need interpreters or translators.

When you talk about language, it’s easy to think about foreign languages. But often left out of that conversation is American Sign Language. Deaf advocates say the offer of ASL interpreters is a great move and it’s important to continue to take steps to improve language equity.

“I think it’s really surprising to some people sometimes to learn just how linguistically diverse the city of Indiana is,” said Tiffany Hanson with LUNA Language Services.

She said translators and interpreters are placed at different sites, using language demographics to determine what services are needed where. People who are deaf or hard of hearing make up some of that, and the language barrier in those cases run deep.

“Just writing materials in English is not enough for a deaf person. Many times they are going to get more accurate information by communicating in their native language, which is American Sign Language.”

The Indiana Chapter of Black Deaf Advocates is offering help. Nathaniel Kelly is the vice president and uses American Sign Language. He corresponded with News 8 by email about areas to improve.

He writes: “There are definitely some areas to work on on accessibility for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing and other languages. We have ideas, like maybe advertise one site that will provide interpreters, so many of us will make trips to that specific site.”

He added, people who are deaf or hard of hearing have to work harder to communicate at vaccine sites. The information isn’t always clear, and with some having health conditions just going is taking a risk.

“Recently, we had a workshop on vaccine issues going in Black communities to discuss misunderstanding, fears or myths on vaccines. And we hoped our workshop helped a bit with accurate information about vaccines,” wrote Kelly.