Two people sit next to each other, one with a hand comforting the other. One speech bubble is fading away and seems incoherent while another is full and direct.

Language Barrier

Navigating the healthcare system is hard enough for a regular English-speaking person. But imagine being diagnosed with a rare condition like NMOSD (neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder) and English not being your first language. Talk about a challenge!

Translating for my family

As a first-generation daughter of parents that immigrated from the Dominican Republic, my skills and advocacy journey started at an early age. For my mother, who came to this country speaking only Spanish, she was dependent on my premature English as a young child. I remember from the age of 8 years old I was translating adult conversations in Spanish to English and vice versa.

I used to translate for my mother and other family members in various settings like supermarkets, banks and healthcare. I was a fearless child and always felt the support from my mother to speak confidently to adults at the time.

Navigating language barriers in healthcare

Years later, when I became ill and was diagnosed with NMOSD I found it easy to navigate the language barrier with my family from my experience. I’m fluent in both English and Spanish, so when time came to explain my diagnoses to my family it was very difficult. With my experience I’d like to share 5 ways to navigate language barrier in the healthcare setting.

Here are some tips for how to manage language barrier at your healthcare office:

  1. Always ask for a translator/interpreter’s services. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you feel that you need an interpreter in order to understand what your doctor/health care provider is telling you, then the doctor/health care provider is required to provide you with one. Whether its via phone, video, in person, you have the right to this service. By having these services provided to you, then will you have a better outcome to have quality of care.
  2. Use translator tools. Most of us have some sort of smartphone in which an app can be downloaded to help translate conversations. Although I’m fluent in both languages I sometimes get stuck with words and personally use Google translator to clarify any doubts. It’s a great, instant tool to help you better understand what’s going on.
  3. Ask for take home information. Asking for take home pamphlets, informational packets and other materials can be helpful. With this material on hand, you can take the time you need to read over, translate and understand the information given to you all in the comfort of your home.
  4. Lean on your family and friends. Just as my mother leaned on me when I was young child, know you can lean on your family and friends for support. Our family’s and friends are usually our first line of help when going through difficult situations. Having someone by your side can help you comprehend better the information given by a healthcare provider.
  5. Online support communities. The online support communities on social media are great! I personally used this method when trying to be understanding terminologies even in English. Hearing other people’s different perspectives within the same diagnoses helped me better understand my own diagnoses journey.

Overcoming language challenges

Language barriers in the healthcare office can be challenging but not impossible. There are plenty of ways to navigate and still feel like you have control of your health journey. 

What other ways would you navigate language barriers in healthcare? Share with the NMOSD community in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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