West Tisbury contemplates boost in Portuguese services

While no decision was made yet, it is the start of a conversation to improve services. 

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West Tisbury is looking at ways to improve Portuguese language services. —Eunki Seonwoo

West Tisbury officials are considering ways the town can better serve Brazilian Islanders, including adding translations in Portuguese to some town records. 

Among the proposals is hiring a language-interpreting phone service, and looking at how other municipalities adapt to a significant non-English-speaking population.

The idea came from select board member Skipper Manter, who noticed signs and announcements on the Steamship Authority vessels were mainly in English, even though many Steamship passengers are not primarily English speakers. 

“We should lead by example,” Manter said during a meeting on Feb. 28. He said that at least the meeting postings and select board minutes should have Brazilian Portuguese translations. 

West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said while the town website does have a translation function, documents like PDFs can’t be translated with it. Rand also said that if language access improvements were pursued, hiring a phone interpreter for staff should be prioritized. 

Rand noted Wednesday that she’s recently had to help individuals who spoke no English. She illustrated the issue, saying she had a back-and-forth with one man through the popular translation tool Google Translate. She eventually called West Tisbury Police Sgt. Bradley Cortez, who knows some Portuguese, to make sure the message was understood. 

“It’s a complicated subject, and Google Translate isn’t optimal, because you have to be able to question back and forth,” she said.

Outgoing West Tisbury town accountant Bruce Stone suggested focusing on where the translation services may be most needed, such as application forms for tradespeople. Stone said he didn’t expect a phone interpreter service to be too costly. 

Board member Cynthia Mitchell said the town should look into how other municipalities handle interpretation and translations for residents. 

Emergency service providers and the courthouse already offer documents in both English and Portuguese. 

“This is opening up a can of worms that we should be opening,” board member Jessica Miller said, adding that former West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson worked to get flyers translated into Brazilian Portuguese during the COVID pandemic. 

A final decision was not made during the meeting. 

In other news, the board unanimously approved signing a license agreement with Eversource for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at West Tisbury School. 

The board also chose to offer the town accountant position to Chelsea Joiner after concluding candidate interviews. John McKenna was chosen as the backup candidate if Joiner no longer wants the position.

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