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Like many programs, Archway Interpretation and Translation Services (ITS) experienced considerable upheaval at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, their team was able to adjust quickly so they could continue ensuring community members would have access to documents and services in languages they can easily understand.

“Everything was so unknown at the beginning and our staff were quite fearful, but we knew services like medical interpretation would be more important than ever and that temporarily shutting down wasn’t an option,” said manager Ivona Kado.

As British Columbia entered lockdown ITS initially experienced “a landslide of cancellations” from clients uncertain about what the coming weeks and months would bring. Despite that decrease in interpretation and translation work, however, there was still much to do in figuring out how to keep staff and freelancers safe.

With increased safety measures in place and personal protective equipment provided, interpreters began attending acute care facilities in the Fraser Valley and throughout the Lower Mainland. ITS provided interpretation services for patients who spoke languages other than English and connected with health care providers to offer their services. This included arranging interpretation services by phone or video chat instead of typical face-to-face meetings.

A number of interpreters set themselves up exclusively for interpretation via video from their home office. They secured a reliable Wi-Fi connection and the right equipment to be prepared for bigger than usual volumes of work from home. 

“They quickly became experts in video interpretation,” shared Kado. “This wasn’t something we had offered in the past and COVID was the push we needed to stay competitive and meet the needs of our clients.”

Back in the ITS office, staff transitioned their workspaces to provide physical distancing for those who needed to come in and helped set other team members up to work successfully from home. Whether staff were at the office or at home, they were all able to contribute and monitor the online database for outstanding bookings or cancellations.

“We found that our workload was literally ‘melting away’ as all hands were on board” said Kado.

Overall, business in this normally bustling social enterprise decreased dramatically from an average of 200 assignments or calls a day down to approximately 25 in March and April.

Interpretation requests were the hardest hit as people gathered less often. Translation work was not as heavily impacted and the program’s regular clients including government agencies and police departments continued to send in documents.

While work started picking up again in the last half of May, no one knows if the trend will continue or what the future holds. ITS was encouraged to see several large contracts extended, particularly in the area of medical dispatch.

As a social enterprise, ITS supports other Archway programs as well as providing jobs for six staff members and over 500 freelancers, many of whom are immigrants. “Some depend on work from us for a full-time income while others use it as an opportunity to supplement their income,” said Kado. “A continued loss in work would have an effect on so many people.”

“We so appreciate the ongoing support from our long-term clients and look forward to working with businesses again as they return to normal. We’ve been in business for over 26 years and look forward to continuing to contribute to our vibrant, multicultural community.”

The past few months have proved especially challenging for many non-profit organizations and social enterprise projects but resiliency, determination and the ability to adapt are enabling ITS to provide those services through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“Everything was so unknown at the beginning and our staff were quite fearful, but we knew services like medical interpretation would be more important than ever and that temporarily shutting down wasn’t an option.”

Ivona Kado

ITS Manager, Archway Community Services

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