Translation of Safety Communication for Latino Construction Workers

Evia and Patriarca’s article, Beyond Compliance: Participatory Translation of Safety Communication for Latino Construction Workers, discusses challenges that Latino construction workers face with workplace safety communication materials. The article explains the construction industry’s standard hierarchy—contractors, subcontractors, and labor specialists. Even with this hierarchy, each specific job title requires unique “communication styles and needs, even with native speakers of the same language” (341).

When one considers how many different ethnicities are represented in the construction industry, it makes the communication process that much more difficult. The article states that “the most tangible product of these communication problems involving Latino construction workers is the high incidence of workplace injuries and fatalities” (341). Also, Latino’s workplace death risks are “40% to 80% higher than it is for their non-Latino peers” (341). These findings provide enough information to show that technical communicators have difficulty in developing effective workplace safety and risk communication materials for a universal audience. Especially since most of the available materials have “an intended audience of English-speaking natives” (343). Technical Writers are faced with a difficult communication barrier. Thus, it is important for Technical Writers to gather suggestions from Latino workers in order to improve communication in the construction industry.

Most technical materials and manuals are filled with wordy paragraphs; the content is there, but it is not put into plain terms. In technical writing, simplicity is key; especially when dealing with valuable workplace information. Also, technical writers need to shape their writing style for an intended audience in order for information to be well-received. A key recommendation to improve communication in the construction industry is to include visuals within the accessible materials. Not only are visuals simple, they do not have to be translated for different cultures. As seen in Figure 2 in Evia and Patriarca’s article, Latino workers drew different work hazards that are present in the workplace. These images support the importance of simplicity that is so relevant in technical writing.

Overall, this article made me think a lot about Project 2. For this project, we are working with the Cranwell International Center to help the office revise forms and handouts for international students at Virginia Tech. As the revisers of these documents, it is important to make sure that natives from over 100 different countries can easily understand each document. Also, we must focus on a large-scale audience; and our audience does not have the same primary language. Keeping Evia and Patriarca’s ideas in mind, it could be very beneficial to add visuals to our revised documents. As a group, we must keep our main audience in mind while we conduct interviews with international students, perform content editing, and test the documents’ usability.

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White, Middle-Class Student Identity Privileges

As I read McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, I couldn’t help but think about the privileges I have had due to my family’s middle-class economic status. The article also made me think about the privileges I have had as a white, middle-class student in the classroom.

1.     Each school you attended had up-to-date educational materials (textbooks, computers, chalkboards, etc.) as well as a well-respected faculty.

2.     Your parents enrolled you into countless sports and/or extra-curricular activities as a child to expand upon your abilities (athletic, artistic, etc.).

3.     You were encouraged to learn outside of school through reading books at home or even going to local museums/plays with your family.

4.     Your parents may have paid for a tutor to enhance your academic abilities (SAT/ACT prep tutor).

5.     After you graduated high school, you were expected to go to college.

6.     You were expected to attend an academically competitive college (mainly Ivy League).

7.     If you made the choice to not attend college, your parents would allow you to stay with them (AND continue to pay for your living expenses).

8.     It is assumed that you will attend graduate school after acquiring an undergraduate degree.

9.     You may not have student loans to pay off when you graduate.

10.Your academic ability is never questioned because of your physical appearance/qualities.

11.You have the ability to walk into a 500-person lecture hall  (or any classroom, for that matter) and “blend in” due to your physical appearance.

12.You are expected to have a life plan that goes something like this: graduate college, have a successful career, get married, and start a family (especially if you’re a female student).

The list of privileges as a white, middle-class student that I have compiled has made me realize a key factor in my success as a student: My parents have always had a huge presence in my educational endeavors. My parents have always gone above and beyond to help me succeed in both academics and extra-curricular activities so that I had the opportunity to attend college. Their financial support is something that I have taken for granted, but parental support (financially) is pretty customary in the area where I grew up.

Not only do these privileges provide overall success to build a life of equal or better economical status as your parents, but these privileges also create pressure to be perfect. In severe instances, you are expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA while balancing three seasonal sports, countless school clubs, and community service activities. There is an automatic pressure to impress your community, your family, and your peers. In my community, this unspoken pressure has lead to many heartbreaking instances of self-harm (drugs, alcohol, suicide). So although the white, middle-class student may seem to have a “charmed life” from the outside, in certain instances it is usually much more complicated than it seems.

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Learning some steps in the Great Dance

In class this past week we watched The Great Dance, an excellent documentary on the !Xo San people and their hunting traditions. The San people live in the notoriously harsh Kalahari Desert and maintain a pre-agricultural lifestyle — their food is gathered and hunted using millennia-old techniques. It is an incredibly hard lifestyle, but I found myself amazed at the hunters’ physical abilities — the fact that they could read the most minute signs and accurately recreate the circumstances of an animal’s death, the fact that they could chase a kudu on foot for hours until the animal was exhausted and simply allowed itself to be killed, the fact that they could even survive on so little for so long.

Screech Owl had previously discussed what he called the Human Operating System 1.0 — this pre-agricultural lifestyle that required people to be fully engaged with and deeply aware of the world around them — and the hunters in this story were clearly living by the same system that had served humanity for thousands and thousands of years. In this day and age, we’ve mostly forgotten the kinds of knowledge that allow the San people to survive. We don’t grow up learning how to read tracks like a map or how to inhabit the mind of an animal we’re pursuing to better predict its movements. And for the most part, we don’t need to in the modern world — at least, that’s what popular knowledge would have us believe. But there’s an incredible depth of information we have no access to if we ignore these things, and this course may be a way to begin to remedy that. Tracking is like dancing, said one of the hunters in the movie, and I think it is a good thing that we are beginning to learn some of the elementary moves.

The second week of class each member of our group selected a small strip of colorful fabric that symbolized a particular direction and the energy associated with it. My blue floral print represented Northeast, a direction symbolizing imagination and sensory integration. Screech Owl asked us to carry the cloth around with us or put it someplace we’d see it often for a week, and then every time we noticed it, use it as an opportunity to check in with our senses and reconnect with our environment. I tied mine to my satchel so I’d see it every time I was about to go to or depart from a class, and it really did help reorient my attention.

On Wednesday, the Northwest group led our classmates to a small tree in the courtyard of Peddrew-Yates. We tore our ribbons in half and tied one piece to the branches, saying aloud a wish or goal we hoped this course would help us achieve. By the end, the shrub was full of colorful scraps fluttering in the icy breeze.

I pass the tree almost every day on my way across campus and can’t help but smile a little as my attention automatically broadens in response — owl eyes, deer ears, and dog nose checking in with my surroundings. After a semester out in the Blacksburg weather, I am curious as to how much these scraps of fabric — and the students who tied them there — will have changed.

The Importance of Transmission

In Slack, Miller, and Doak’s The Technical Communicator as Author, the authors define three different views of communication: transmission, translation, and articulation. As I read about transmission, I couldn’t help but to notice how its defining characteristics parallel to storytelling. On page 5, the defining characteristics include:

      -The conception of communication as the transportation of messages

      -The conception of the message—the meaning encoded by a sender and decoded by a receiver—as measurable entity transmitted from one point to another by means of a clearly delineated channel

      -The conception of power as the power of the sender to effect, by means of this message, a desired mental and/or behavioral change in the receiver. This power is the power of the sender over the receiver

From these defining characteristics, I was able to tell that in a sense, transmission communication acts as transportation. Messages have the ability to “move in a timely manner across space” (5). Today, these messages are able to reach people faster through different mediums. For example, messages can be transferred through radio, television, telephone, computers, etc. When thinking about transmitting messages faster, farther, and much more effectively, I thought about King and the storytelling that occurs in both The Truth About Stories and in Native American culture. How did Native Americans practice the transmission of stories? How did they get the same message across to an audience every time a message or story was told? In King’s novel, each chapter begins in the same fashion; however, certain parts of the story vary every time. The variation parallels to the rendering of stories over the years. The structure remains mostly the same, but some of the information tends to change. Today, transmitting messages comes so easily to our culture; we have so many different mediums that are available for our use. However, none of these were available to the Native Americans who pride a part of their culture on passing down stories.

In Shannon and Weaver’s conception of communication, they talk how it’s linear. The sender, or the storyteller, wishes “transmit meaning,” but the message has to contain some sort of information. The message is then sent to the receiver, or the listener/audience. The receiver must decode the message for a specific meaning. If the process does not encounter any kind of miscommunication, the receiver will decode the sender’s original message. To put this concept into plain terms, Shannon and Weaver talk about how a message is “packaged” and “unwrapped.”

After reading King’s The Truth About Stories, I feel that I appreciate the original storytelling process that has been practiced by the Native American culture. Nowadays, we are able to communicate a story or message very easily through the countless resources that our society has access to. Also, King’s novel made me think about how storytelling can be considered an art form; it is interactive and encourages listeners to use their imagination.

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Literacy, Status, Narrative Representation

In Powell’s “Literacy, Status, Narrative Representation,” there was a large focus on the how a specific community of people of a “higher status,” government officials, perceive another community of people who are considered to have a “lower status,” Appalachia residents. Many of the Appalachia residents’ stereotypes and identities were based upon literacy. It almost was as if literacy became a tool for defining their identities—mountain residents were not considered the “right kind” of white. According to government officials and other communities, these people lack education and need help from people who thought they knew how to provide it for them. Overall, the article really shows how the “myth of the mountaineer” completely misrepresents the entire group of Appalachia residents.

An interesting finding that is present in Powell’s work is how the letters reflect both the government officials and mountain residents’ status. For example, most of the letters written by Appalachia residents were handwritten on notepad paper. Also, they were written in pencil; however, their writing seemed to show a lack of education. On the other hand, government officials were typed on a formal paper with a letterhead and its content showed authority. This finding is important to the idea that residents of Appalachia have been misrepresented. It is important to note that the act of writing a letter is one of social participation and an educated gesture. Maybe the letters did not have convincing content, but I think it’s crucial to know that these people are not completely helpless.

As I think about this finding, I’m trying to figure out how exactly it relates to something in my life. Currently, I can relate this to how people see others who lack education as inferior or people of a lower status. In today’s world, society sees education as a crucial part to success. People are more concerned with money and status, which makes education an important focus for better opportunities. As a college student, I strive to do the best that I can in the field that will one day become my career. However, some people do not have the fortunate opportunity to attend college. This should not mean that somebody without a college degree is “inferior” within the workplace. It is possible that somebody who hasn’t attended college may have much more knowledge than somebody with a degree. This idea that a lack of education makes somebody inferior is something that our society has definitely made a misrepresentation about. In what other ways has our society molded misrepresentations? And why do most people believe them?

A large part of my own identity is based upon my family’s values, especially my dad’s values. My dad came from what would be considered as a lower class family. He never went to college because my grandparents were unable to afford it, so my dad enlisted in the Navy when he finished high school. After he served our country, my dad began to make his own business in heating and air conditioning. For over thirty years now, my dad has owned a successful business. Without a college degree, my dad made something of himself, which really supports what I talked about earlier. He taught me to work hard, to remain optimistic, and to search for opportunities. My parents also raised me to have a strong faith in God, which is something that remains close to me. I believe that a lot of what makes up my identity is due to how I was raised as a child.

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Black Willow, checking in

As part of The Nature of Leadership, I’ll be documenting and reflecting on some of our class activities on this blog in the coming weeks. There will be a lot of nature talk, a little philosophy, and quite a bit of running around in the snow. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. Stay tuned.

One of the first things we did in class was receive nature names and get divided into bands — cohorts that will stay together for the duration of the semester.

I’m part of the Cicada band, and the name I pulled was Black Willow. It’s not a majestic weather event or some variety of charismatic megafauna, but as a general enthusiast over the native plants of southeast Virginia after a dendrology class I took several semesters back, I kind of dig it. Black willows (their Latin name is Salix nigra) are interesting trees — they help stabilize the soil around waterways and are an important part of many riparian ecosystems. Their bark and branches can be used in basketwork and weaving, and their inner bark contains a bitter compound called salicylic acid — the chemical from which aspirin is synthesized. All in all, they are a plant whose moniker I am happy to adopt.

Plus, you know, they’re really lovely trees. Go down to the Duck Pond sometime and see them yourself.

(A bonus: I couldn’t help but think of the chart below as we pulled our names from the container. None of us, at least, are called Cheeseweed, which is probably for the best.)