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Salisbury City Council to look into whether interpreters are needed, cost-effective

SALISBURY — City Council meetings are currently conducted exclusively in English, but it may not be that way for long.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Al Heggins asked council members to consider having interpreters for Spanish speakers and deaf people at the council’s bimonthly meetings.

“Again, I lean back on the fact that we are a very diverse city,” Heggins said.

She said that in particular, not much has been done for the deaf community.

“And so I would like to see what we can do to make sure that we are including our citizens who are hearing-impaired and would like to either come to meetings or watch these meetings online when they’re being done and understand what’s going on,” Heggins said.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield said she thinks it’s a “great idea.”

“Especially with the hearing-impaired; I get the logistics of that, how that can happen,” Sheffield said. “I just don’t understand the logistics on how we simultaneously translate (into Spanish) without disruption, for lack of a better word.”

Heggins said there are a number of models that could work, like those used at the United Nations and in other municipalities. But to avoid segregating people or relying on expensive equipment, the council would have to get “creative,” she said.

“I think we’ll just have to … really do some real mindful thinking and planning around this to make sure that we don’t make anyone feel like they’re being pointed out or ostracized,” Heggins said. “Because our intention is to be inclusive, we certainly don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being targeted or excluded in any way.”

Sheffield said the city could — and should — put Spanish-language translations on the videos of meetings that the city post several days after the meetings.

“I don’t see how that could ever be a problem,” Sheffield said.

Heggins agreed, but she is hesitant to have those videos be the only way Spanish-speakers can engage with the council.

“If I were hearing-impaired or if I didn’t speak English, I wouldn’t want to have to wait until Thursday to be a part of that process. What if I wanted to be part of public comment?” Heggins asked.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander asked whether considerations would be made for other languages that are represented in Salisbury.

“Because if we’re going to be inclusive, I think we want to be as inclusive as possible,” Alexander said.

Councilman David Post said that he has received three or four calls from residents who are not happy with the idea of a translator at meetings. But he said the calls seem to be specifically opposed to having one person speak and then another person translating afterward.

“But the simultaneous broadcast, as you said, (like) at the U.N., I don’t see how anyone could object to that,” Post said.

Councilman Brian Miller said he likes the idea of having Spanish-language captions on the rebroadcasts of council meetings, but he is wary of whether there is a demand for real-time interpretation at meetings.

“I’ve been doing this now, this is my ninth year, (and I’ve) not had anyone ever come to me and say, ‘I really wish you would do this.’ So to some extent I think we need to understand if there is truly a need for this before we spend our resources,” Miller said.

Heggins responded.

“When we begin to talk about marginalized communities, sometimes we have to think a little differently about when the need will be raised or not raised,” she said.

“Sometimes when you are in a majority group — and we are a majority English-speaking group — no matter what kind of majority group you’re in, it’s hard to understand what marginalized communities may be experiencing,” Heggins said. “And it’s hard to even begin to think about and consider the fact that it is an issue.”

The council did not make a decision about the matter Tuesday.

Heggins said she would research costs for interpreters and translation equipment and would report back to the council with her findings.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.



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