Breaking down language barriers in the pandemic response

Woman leans over teenager seated at table on laptop

It can be challenging to navigate the flood of information being shared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is especially difficult for individuals and families living in the U.S. who aren’t fluent in English. When foreign language speakers don’t have access to trusted information in their native idiom, they may struggle to understand and follow government public health and safety guidance, and the language barrier may prevent them from accessing emergency aid and other basic resources in a time of great need. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Greater Cleveland, organizations and groups across the community worked to ensure key information would be accessible in a number of different languages:

  • Cuyahoga County has made multilingual resources available on its website here.
  • United Way 2-1-1 has operators in place who can respond to calls in a variety of languages.
  • Global Cleveland recruited dozens of translators who have worked around the clock to help translate vital information from public officials and agencies into nearly 20 different languages for Greater Cleveland’s international community.
  • Cleveland Foundation staff members have worked with partners from Metro West Community Development Organization, MidTown Cleveland and Smart Development Inc. to create flyers with information in Arabic, Chinese and Spanish – the top-spoken foreign languages in Greater Cleveland. The flyers are being mailed to homes and businesses in neighborhoods where these languages are spoken by many residents; they can also be downloaded by clicking the hyperlinks above. 
  • Governor Mike DeWine’s daily live press conferences can be viewed in Spanish via The Ohio Channel here
  • A list of community resources and updates in Spanish, translated with help from Global Cleveland, is also available to download from our website here.

These are just a few examples of multilingual resources and services that are currently available. If you are aware of others, please share them in the comment box below!

Accommodating foreign language speakers not only improves our community’s collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also helps immigrants, refugees and newcomers feel connected and welcomed during a particularly challenging and isolating time. Right now, our solidarity is more important than ever.