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Non-English Literacy Is Not the Same as Illiteracy

Posted by ijavaloyes@outlook.com on December 23, 2014 at 1:45 PM


by Iñigo JAVALOYES


When I first started considering putting together a company to provide Hispanic communities with meaningful and comprehensible health care information, I had discouraging feedback from some of my American-born colleagues. "Most Hispanics who don't speak English, don't know how to read or write in their own language", told me a high-ranking executive from a major publishing company.

The stereotype of Hispanics as an uneducated minority, continues to inform many decision-makers in the higher echelons of hospitals and insurance companies which, to be fair, do provide interpreting services. However, they fail to communicate with their growing Spanish-speaking clientele in writing.


"If they can't read", they seem to think, "why bother translate our diabetes brochure?"
"Why share information about the mental and physical benefits of exercise?"
"Why provide that hip replacement guide in Spanish?"
"Why? They can't read!"

Of course we can. Sadly, non-English literacy is generally perceived as illiteracy, which is fallacious and unfair. Since the literacy rate in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (the main sources of Latin American immigration) ranges from 90 to 94%, it would only be logical to assume that the same numbers apply on this side of the border.


But the bias has taken root and, as a result, millions of Spanish-speaking clients are being denied vital written information about chronic disease management, prevention of obesity, and other critical health issues of our time. This condescending attitude towards Hispanics can only be described as cultural blindness, if not worse.

 


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