Insights September 23, 2020

How to be truly inclusive with public information during a pandemic

Living Word
By Living Word

It’s been said many times that the coronavirus pandemic poses one of the greatest translation challenges of our time, but it would be pertinent to highlight that the challenge lies not just in the translation of important healthcare messages, but in the localisation of related campaigns.

Along with lockdowns, social distancing and a wide range of different measures in response to the pandemic, it’s no wonder that we’ve also seen a spike in anxiety and depression. Mental health services and organisations are busy, yet they too have been forced to change their operations in line with restrictions, and indeed their messaging in order to include entirely new audiences.

When it comes to the most basic kind of mental health campaigns, a great deal of valuable communications material is already available. Advice on how to cope with bad bouts of anxiety and how to support someone close to you who is suddenly struggling with depression, for instance, has been produced many times before, mostly in English. Much of it can be recycled and translated – but it’s important to remember that not all campaigns suit everyone.

Considering class, culture and minority languages

Some say that Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, that it impacts people across classes, cultures and genders. That may be true in a medical sense, but it’s becoming very clear that already vulnerable groups like those in crowded homes and estates and those whose jobs can’t easily be done from home are far more exposed and now additionally vulnerable. It’s also a fact that minority groups are hugely overrepresented in these communities. Moreover, it goes without saying, surely, that those who speak minority languages, regardless of their social status, should not need to be negatively impacted by a lack of clear communication in a language they understand.

There are a number of issues here that need to be considered when translating and localising vital information about the pandemic and related schemes and services. Is the person translating English texts into Gujarati of the same cultural background as the audience the texts are for? What cultural sensitivities might be preventing a person from reading a leaflet about mental health, or indeed trusting the provider to treat them in a culturally appropriate way? Are you translating information about a service that won’t be able to help the relevant community due to a lack of interpreters, should they show up for support?

Cultural assumptions about bodies and mental health

Translating content is not always the same as localising it, or it’s at least true to say that you can translate a document correctly and still fail in aspects of the localisation. Is a Polish community in Britain the same, culturally, as a Polish community in Poland? Are the hierarchical assumptions and gendered sensitivities the same for all native French speakers?

If the pandemic is one of the greatest translation challenges of our time, it is in part because of how crucial the information is, and how complex cultural assumptions about bodies and mental health are. If we are to be fully inclusive in our communication, all of the above must be considered.