Language Barrier Issues

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Although the official and principal language of the United States is English, there have always been parts of the population for whom English was not the primary tongue. Today, many sections of the country are experiencing increases in a variety of population segments where the same circumstance is true. This creates the potential for communication problems and appropriate solutions should be developed. The ability to adequately communicate is necessary to maintain the sense of family desired by YMCAs. It can also prevent accidents and keep incidents from escalating into something unpleasant. The following points should be considered and acted upon if applicable.

  1. Each YMCA branch should identify any non-English languages (including hearing-impaired communication) used by patrons of its facilities and should develop a plan for communicating with those individuals.
    • Determine the languages used by patrons of your facilities.
    • Quantify the extent of use of non-English languages by patrons of your facilities.
    • Identify the programs where a need for more specialized communication may exist.
    • Develop a plan for providing bilingual (or other specialized) communication as needed.
  2. Warning and instructional signs must be understood to be effective. General or specific building areas where bilingual signage is necessary should be identified and the proper signage posted. The following are some of the areas where language-appropriate signage is critical:
    • Exit and directional signs (e.g., paths of egress, areas of refuge, stairs, ramps, elevators, etc.)
    • Develop a plan for providing bilingual (or other specialized) communication as needed.
    • Warning, caution, and danger signs (e.g., concerning wet surfaces, high voltage, poison, etc.)
    • Control and instructional signs (e.g., around spas, swimming pools, exercise equipment, etc.)
  3. Procedures regarding evacuation or other emergency actions need to readily accommodate non-English speakers. Some ways of implementing this needed communication include the following:
    • Staff members fluent in the appropriate language(s);
    • Pre-prepared emergency instructions in the appropriate language(s)… brief, explicit, tested;
    • Pre-established access to speakers of the appropriate language(s)… a readily available list;
    • A system of hand signals or other non-verbal form of communication.

If we are going to provide safe programs and facilities for our patrons, we need to adequately address all communication challenges, of which language is one of the more significant.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.

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