The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) is rolling out a new set of rules to ensure residents who don’t speak English well or at all can participate in public meetings about proposed developments.
Under the new policy, slated to go into effect early this year, BPDA will require that those meetings and relevant materials be interpreted in the popular languages of the city’s various neighborhoods.
BPDA has previously provided interpreters on a case-by-case basis when specifically requested or deemed necessary.
Brian Golden, BPDA’s director, said the policy is a response to demographic shifts.
“We’ve got a city that is increasingly diverse. The city is a radically different place today, demographically, than it was when I was growing up here,” Golden said.
On top of the more diverse population, Golden said the city is experiencing a building boom that has created more than 60 million square feet of new development in the past seven years. “As that trend spreads from downtown into neighborhoods, residents need to know what’s happening,” he said.
“It is absolutely key that people understand the pros and cons of development,” Golden said. “If we are not being understood, either because we’re not explaining things well enough or because we’re not explaining things in a language that, literally, people can understand, that’s a real problem.”
Boston has stepped up its outreach to non-English speakers in recent years, forming an Office of Language and Communications Access that provides accessibility training to other city departments and helps finance activities like braille transcription, video captions, and audio transcripts.
Those in the language services industry said the city has come a long way since the days when non-English speakers were relegated to the rear corners of meeting rooms, where a non-certified interpreter might have offered informal interpreting of the proceedings.
“It feels like we started in the stone age,” said Linda Barros, a local freelance interpreter. Barros, who moved to Dorchester in the 1980s, said meeting spaces frequently felt “chaotic,” with people straining to hear while two or three languages were spoken simultaneously.
“Now non-English-speaking people will come in, and if they see headsets, they already know it’s for them,” she said, describing the modern audio systems that connect interpreters with their audiences.
“This is a diverse world, and the fact that you have immigrants in our country not understanding the language, I think we’re missing out,” Diana Pagano, an operations executive with Interpreters and Translators, Inc., said. “We’re going to miss out on a big, big community that can be contributors…It’s just about empowering them.”
Author: Wintersmith, Saraya
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