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Nuts & Bolts: Inside a Democratic campaign—using digital meeting translation opportunities

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This Sunday we’re going to delve into how to make your campaign and party more inclusive through your digital meetings. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up any time: Just visit our group or follow the Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

Over the past year, a lot of us have become more familiar with digital platforms, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. When we are away from each other and we still need to talk, these digital platforms give us a way to get together and communicate, plan, and work toward our combined effort. These platforms also give us a chance to invite new users into our groups. How? By allowing us to integrate translation services—services that can assist those who are deaf or speak another language. This week on Nuts & Bolts: Let’s expand our audience

Being the Big Tent party

This week, while ousting Liz Cheney from House leadership, Republicans declared themselves the ‘Big Tent’ party. The Democratic Party, however, should actually work to be a big tent party that recognizes the value of every voter and every voice in the room. Technology helped us all stay in our homes —but did it also help provide even smaller organizations a chance to be much more diverse? Yes, yes it did.

Over more than a decade, I have attended state party and county party events in numerous states, and even more when it comes to attending activism events, plus forums and training sessions like Netroots Nation and Roots Camp. At all of them, I have often wondered: How easy is the participation for someone who is deaf? Someone who has vision deficits in regards to slides and media, or who speaks another language? Well, in the digital format we now have new options available, and those options give us a chance for a truly big tent.

Multiple languages spoken here

One underused function available in Zoom and Microsoft Teams is the ability to use translator services. Think about what this means to bringing in new potential voters and activists to your cause! Zoom explains their translator options here:

Users that would like to include interpreters in their meetings or webinars now have the ability to enable language interpretation. This allows the host to designate up to 20 participants as interpreters on the web portal or during a Zoom session.

When the meeting or webinar starts, the host can start the interpretation feature, which will allow the interpreters to provide their own audio channels for the language they are translating to. Attendees can then select the audio channel to hear the translated audio in their language of choice, as well as the option to mute the original audio instead of hearing it in a lower volume with their chosen language.

Having multiple language interpreters allows your meeting, which was at one point only in English, to suddenly be available and accessible to people who speak other languages and provide them an opportunity to join and grow your big tent, part of the inclusive effort you are making.

Microsoft provides functionality in voice and text translation in real time using a digital translator (or real through other means) plus chat translation.

Microsoft Teams allows parents and teachers to communicate with each other remotely. However, if do they do not speak a common language, communication can be difficult. Microsoft Translator allows parents and teachers to communicate, in-person or virtually, in their preferred languages. Pairing Teams with Microsoft Translator allows teachers to call parents, caption what they are saying, and have it translated for parents. In turn, parents can talk or write back in their preferred language. Multiple parents can join a conference, and each can communicate in their own language.

Translating into sign language

Both Teams and Zoom provide the ability to offer a box for sign language translation. They also can offer auto-computerized captions. While computerized caption isn’t perfect and is still being improved daily, providing these options gives members of the deaf community access to meetings they have felt shut out of for years.

For years, subtitles have unfortunately been used to shame people or to say they were the problem, as The Washington Post points out:

Open captions suggest national and racial norms — that English is king — that remain in play when English is spoken, as in the less artistically defensible genre of reality television, where the speech of drunks, minorities and immigrants alike must, editors assert, be spelled out or else is wrongly assumed unintelligible. Broadcast programs that single out the socially and economically vulnerable, such as “Cops” and “Maury,” come to mind, but the practice is also common enough in news broadcasts and documentaries, such as in “Usain Bolt: The Fastest Man Alive,” in which the BBC chose to subtitle its Jamaican subject.


By “translating” speech in a shared language for the sake of clarity, open captions insinuate a failure of the speaker — with all necessary prejudicial baggage. The opposite impulse drew me to closed captions. My failure led me.


It began what must be an eternity ago with “Game of Thrones,” a series that has more linguistic diversity than most American television, featuring an array of accents that go unattributed to matters of worldbuilding. (The Starks are an admixture of Yorkshire and posh or, rather, “Received Pronunciation” accents, for example — rather democratic for a show obsessed with hierarchy and power.) Struggling to track its multiplying medley of tones and inflections, I found I was missing minor details about places and names, along with the all-too-rare moments of wit.

Subtitles, however, pave the way for everyone to retain the information being provided. When it comes to activism and growing the Democratic Party, the time for snobbery is over and the time for real work begins. That is why The Washington Post article above later argues for more use of subtitles, but also why educators should do the same. Salon summarizes:

Dr Richard Purcell, a UK doctor and one of the founders of the captioning company Caption.Ed, sees his company as a service for people "with and without hearing impairment to enhance their interactions with media." As he explains, "There is a wealth of evidence demonstrating that, for a wide range of participants, captions can improve a viewer's comprehension and retention of information. There is also evidence to suggest captions can improve a viewer's ability to draw inferences and define words, identifying emotions from media sources."

Making your meeting more open and accessible has another benefit: It means more of your attendees will retain the information you are providing them. Isn’t that what you really want?

The digital era is here—USE IT!

The digital era of remote meetings and unlimited attendees is here. Make use of it. You have a golden opportunity to reach out into communities who might otherwise feel shut out. The better you plan ahead, the more time you have to invite attendees who might not otherwise come. That is how you actually grow a big tent party.
 
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