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Washington Language Access Leaders Attend National Immigrant Integration Conference 2011

By Joana Ramos
Founding member, Board member, and Chair, Healthcare Committee,
Washington State Coalition for Language Access

The Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA) is a young organization that seeks to eliminate language barriers in all areas of public life in the state, through education and advocacy. WASCLA is currently an all-volunteer group with very limited resources, so members were excited to learn that the 2011 National Immigrant Integration Conference would be held in Seattle. Not many major national conferences are held here, let alone one so specific to our mission. Travel costs usually limit the possibilities for those of us in the helping professions and community services sector from being able to participate in such venues, as important as they are for our work. We soon realized however, that the registration fees for the NIIC were beyond the reach of our organization.

Fortunately, earlier in the year, WASCLA had become a member of the NNLM/PNR as part of our own capacity-building process. Language access services are vital to improving personal and community health, so it is critical that we have access to reliable health and health policy information. In addition, WASCLA helps to support the information needs of its members, many of whom are direct service providers as independent medical interpreters responsible for their own continuing education.

We applied for and were awarded a Professional Development grant, which allowed Abukar Ali, Kristi Cruz, Louise Morehead, and Joana Ramos of WASCLA to attend the October conference. For 3 days we had the opportunity not only to hear national experts opine on policy issues and challenges to immigrant integration today, but also to participate in topical workshops and discussion sessions with peers. Themes related to health and dissemination of health information included workshops on: the current status of immigrant access to health services; the need for more relevant work-oriented ESL programs like the Welcome Back Program for those who had been health workers in their homelands; the important role of community-based organizations in consumer education; the future of the safety net services; and health care reform. Especially valuable were networking sessions, including a Language Access Caucus, where health topics were a major focus and colleagues from across the country met for the first time.

Since the conference, we have utilized knowledge gained at NIIC into WASCLA’s ongoing program planning and development. A first step was the creation of the WASCLA Healthcare Committee in December, building on our Pharmacy Workgroup. In addition, facilitators of Health Track sessions continue to keep attendees informed of advocacy opportunities like the Region X HHS Listening Session on Essential Health Benefits, where several of us testified on the need for language access services. We are most appreciative that NNLM/PNR offers this kind of support for community groups like WASCLA.

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