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Why Culturally and Linguistically Inclusive COVID-19 Messaging is Important

The Sikh community wasn’t getting effective guidance on the measures needed to fight the pandemic. There wasn’t much health communication targeting cultural communities in a way that landed, like showing Sikhs how to wear masks.” - (Tyee, From Gurdwaras to Truckers, How to Protect a Diverse, Working Suburb)

Culturally and linguistically nuanced COVID-19 messaging has been a great barrier for people who do not speak official languages fluently to un

derstand how to protect their health and wellbeing. Especially during the pandemic, health messaging needs to be accessible for everyone. People attending cultural and religious spaces, like the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple), and not wearing masks poses a big public health hazard. These are enclosed spaces where people are within close proximity, and if they do not have their masks on, transmission is very easy. In addition to language barriers, standard masks aren’t accessible to everyone and different cultural groups need awareness on how to accommodate ma

sks for themselves. For instance, Hijabi women wear a headscarf where the mask can’t go over their ears, Sikh men and women wear turbans, which also present the same barrier of struggling to have the mask go over their ears. Oftentimes, people think that they can’t wear masks because they’re inaccessible when, in reality, there are ways to accommodate wearing masks with various head coverings on.

“My ears are covered by my turban, and so a regular mask can’t fit around my ears,” explained Sachal. And for men with long beards, standard-sized masks don’t give the needed protection. But public health guidance didn’t cover those kinds of challenges.” - ( Tyee, From Gurdwaras to Truckers, How to Protect a Diverse, Working Suburb)

Public health guidance does not cover the challenges mentioned because there has not been enough awareness that these language and cultural barriers exist. As cases increased, communities started advocating for inclusive messaging to help stop the spread and save lives. The standard messaging does not account for people who do not speak the official languages, nor does it account for people who face barriers in

wearing or accessing face masks. Additionally, the severity of the situation is often not appropriately communicated to these communities, so they aren’t able to take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their communities.

“With the help of his gurdwara, Fraser Health and grants from the Clinton Foundation and Canada Service Corps, Sachal and other volunteers launched the COVID-19 Sikh Gurdwara Initiative.

Special cloth masks were provided to those who didn’t have them, with volunteers and infographics teaching people how to tie them around a turban, as well as how to store and wash them. South Asian-looking people were used in the images” (Tyee, From Gurdwaras to Truckers, How to Protect a Diverse, Working Suburb)

Another project that has been going on to push forth inclusive COVID-19 messaging is the Hindu COVID-19 Task Force ensuring Peel region communities understand COVID-19 messaging. Peel region is populated mostly by South Asian and immigrant communities from different ethnic backgrounds, where cultural and linguistic nuance is especially important. This is a non-partisan grassroots organization committed to the community’s safety and health.

“Dr. Anju Anand, a physician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said medical professionals came together to try to understand the socio-economic barriers facing communities around COVID-19 and to develop and disseminate "culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate" information for people not able to access existing public health messaging.” - (CBC News, New Hindu COVID-19 Task Force aims to make public health messaging more accessible in Peel)

The task force focuses on providing accessible messaging in all top ten languages spoken in the Peel region, to better educate the community about public health in order to decrease anxiety and fear around COVID-19. They post videos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to improve communication around COVID-19 and public health, for South Asian communities. The government has not produced linguistically- or culturally-nuanced messaging, which is why this team decided to take it upon themselves to educate their communities. If people understand what is happening, they can take precautions that will decrease transmission.

These initiatives show that linguistically- and culturally-inclusive public health messaging combined with better social media messaging is vital and reveals how important language access is for healthcare services. We urge the government to support language access so everyone’s health and safety is prioritized. To learn more about the importance of culturally and linguistically inclusive public health messaging signup for Language Advocacy Day to see Sukhmeet talk about his work.

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