Communicating during COVID

Image from Amplifer Art

West Coast relations: I hope you’re staying safe amongst the forest fires, smoke, and heat. Please stay indoors and check in on others to make sure they have what they need right now. To the essential workers who must be outside right now – thank you for your service. I wish I could offer you more than my thanks.

Please also register to vote. The November election is coming up and this is an important year to be a voter.

I’ve joked with a few friends (via text) that my usual gossip mill is non-existent. I miss catching up with people in the hallways and parking lots before and after meetings. Through all of this it made me think about how we’re communicating with communities of color through COVID19, social distancing requirements.

COVID has disrupted the way we do everything, including the way we communicate. With my normal gossip flow is disrupted, I no longer have as many chance encounters with friends and colleagues at restaurants or office buildings. Now the communication has migrated to text streams and social media. I recently pulled up my cellphone bill and looked at how many text messages were on my bill, it was over 1,400 for a month – a bit appalling.

What this means is realizing my bubble of knowledge has skewed over the past few months. I’m probably not hearing as much from certain people and I’m hearing a lot from people who are like me. Realizing this I now have to make sure I’m reaching out and pro-actively communicating or seeking out appropriate places to connect.

Community of Color Networks

Pre-COVID I would preach that communities of color appreciate in-person communication. Knowing this we now have to see how and where the communications lines have shifted during COVID and social distancing requirements. In some places it is just figuring out where and how the community has adapted. As an example, my colleague Selam Misgano saw a need to get information out to the Amharic speaking community right after COVID started. She quickly organized a weekly video call where people could call in and ask questions and she’d share what she knew. It was her attempt to make sure her community received accurate and timely information. Over time she realized people were asking more complicated questions about unemployment, health, education, etc. so she invited experts to join to answer questions. I share this as an example of how the community took the lead and organized itself, and others like school systems and others could follow the community’s lead and help to support their efforts with resources (e.g. money, time, expertise, relationships, etc.).

Another colleague who works with the Chinese immigrant community invited me to several virtual meetings she organized with parents. The same with the Black community. Sitting in and listening and watching how others move through virtual space is a great way for me to connect and learn, and hopefully over time build trust and share gifts back with them too.

In other places, the communication network is through apps such as Wee Chat or Kako. Finding out where and how people communicate naturally is an important part of meeting people where they are at and accepting the privilege of communicating with them in their preferred way. Too often mainstream systems require people to receive information through their preferred channels – email, text, websites, etc. Meeting people where they are at builds trust and you’ll hear more authentically what people are needing and where the bright spots are.

New Ways Of Operating

Through COVID we’ve had to shift how we communicate. Video and virtual adaptability is a must, but that doesn’t mean everyone can participate equally. We’ve blogged earlier about how to make sure online communication is inclusive of Deaf and Hard of Hearing community by providing ASL interpretation or captioning, and other accommodations for people with disabilities. In other places groups are having to figure out how to provide language access in virtual spaces, including simultaneous interpretation of meetings. These new ways of working are important and we shouldn’t give up because we think it is “too hard,” “too expensive,” or we don’t have enough time to learn a new system.

While the COVID shutdown has required programs and meetings to move online, in some ways this has opened up new ways for people to attend meetings and participate. With the shift to online, I’ve noticed some meetings I regularly attend in person now has more people attending online. I’ve also appreciated how arts organizations have adapted to allowing for digital passes of their programs and recording them so people can listen or watch when it works with their schedule – a plus for people who are caregiving and can’t always participate live. I hope when we eventually get out of COVID we don’t lose some of these new ways that accommodate more people.

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