HandsUp Communications stresses the need for translators to non-english speaking communities

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa. (KCRG) - In the north part of Cedar Rapids, just off Edgewood and Glass Road, HandsUp Communications is adapting to a new reality.

“Every time a new business closes, it’s a new door closing to the opportunity to provide communication access to interpreting," Susan Tyrrell, CEO of HandsUp Communications said.

As schools and businesses close down, HandsUp loses its primary source of revenue, which resulted in a large number of layoffs of translators. Some forms of local government are now relying on the internet to spread their message and they’ve outsourced their translations to larger companies or free services like google translate.

“Human language is very dynamic its very complex, and given difference context, different situations, a machine is definitely going to goof some things up that could cause huge huge issues," said Director of Customer Experience Curtis Silbaugh.

Even on the Iowa Department of Public Health website, the translation resources are limited. In the hopes of stopping the spread of misinformation in non-English speaking communities, HandsUp created its own website.


“The communities in large who may not use English as their first language aren’t receiving any or little to no information about the COVID crisis,” Tyrrell said.

That applies to the deaf/hard of hearing and the blind communities as well.

“With deaf/blind, they can’t see or they can’t hear and that information goes through physical contact, a touch, it's required to be done in person.” Jennifer Keaton, using sign language, said through an interpreter.

HandsUp hopes to return to their prior levels of employment once this crisis is over. In the meantime, they stress that the communities can't forget about marginalized communities, especially in Iowa’s rural areas.

“We need to remember them, and we need to ensure to support the local businesses because that’s what we’re doing, our community, that’s what makes Iowa home.”