Students laughed and waved at the enthusiastic group of adults wearing bright blue T-shirts as they walked down the halls of Woodrow Wilson Elementary school.

High fives and fist bumps were delivered to the students brave enough to get close to the vibrant band of blue shirts.

One thing was clear–everyone was excited to be at the free vision screening event held at Woodrow Wilson Elementary school, with the United Way of Salt Lake City.

inWhatLanguage (the enthusiastic group in blue shirts) partnered with United Way after they recognized the dire need for translation services within the community.

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“We were shocked to find that 44 percent of students in South Salt Lake are learning to speak English,” said Sheldon Wardwell, Social Impact Director at inWhatLanguage. “Language is often something we take for granted, but for refugees and immigrants, it’s one of the greatest barriers to success.”

The Vision Screening

The vision screening event functioned like a normal eye exam, the one where you feel the pressure to guess the right letters on a white page across the room. Why do they call it an eye exam? It makes the situation feel more stressful.

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Luckily these elementary school kids embraced the challenge with courage. Instead of matching letters, they matched shapes to accommodate the English Language Learning students.

Many of the students laughing and giving intense (sometimes painful) high fives squinted and struggled to see the various shapes.

In some cases, we had to communicate with these struggling kids by gesturing to a sample card with examples of the shapes they were supposed to be seeing.

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It was obvious that some of the students felt uncomfortable because language barriers prevented them from fully comprehending what was going on with the vision screening.

The team kept smiling and fist-bumping until the students once again felt confident in their task.

Then they’d look at the distant page taped against the wall 10 feet away, and point to the correlating shape on the sample card.

Understanding Challenges with Cultural Diversity in Public Schools

Out of the 6,813 total students in South Salt Lake Schools, 18 percent of students are refugees with 73 different native languages spoken between them.

United Way provides free medical, dental and vision services to underprivileged families through its community resource centers located in schools throughout the area.

“Some of the families who need these resources the most have been unaware that these programs exist due to language barriers,” said Eryn Gorang, Community School Director at United Way of Salt Lake.

Unifying Diverse Communities

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Since August, inWhatLanguage has translated over 47,000 words with information about medical, dental, vision and education resources provided by the United Way and Granite School District.

Data provided by United Way helped to identify the most widely used languages in South Salt Lake schools, including Arabic, Burmese, Dari, Farsi, Karen, Nepali, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, and Vietnamese.

“This is just the beginning,” said Cody Broderick, Founder and CEO at inWhatLanguage. “With the support of partners and language professionals, we want to meet the language and communication needs of vulnerable communities around the world.”

About inWhatLanguage

inWhatLanguage is a localization and technology provider breaking down language and cultural barriers to unify people and communities around the world. We develop technology and human networks, which connects organizations to communities by allowing them to create, control and manage all enterprise-wide content through a proprietary, cloud-based translation management platform called UNIFY.