A boosted effort to connect community: Lessons learned from early stages of pandemic help spur Glenwood Springs’ efforts to reach more within the community
Blind spots require someone outside of the typical perspective to bring attention to them.
One person who unintentionally brought light to one of Glenwood Springs’ biggest blind spots was Police Chief Joseph Deras during a live Q&A roughly one year after he accepted the position.
“The amount of interest in watching a Facebook Live with the police chief providing information, both in English and in Spanish, it really just changed the way that we realized we needed to make sure that we were delivering information access better,” Jenn Ooton said. “And I think since then we have been working on these issues.”
Other blind spots came to light during the early stages of the pandemic for Glenwood Springs: the lack of representation for underserved communities like LGBTQ+, people who have disabilities, and anyone else who struggles with language, economic or any other social structural barriers in the valley. Since then, the city has worked in many ways to point a spotlight on those overlooked areas, realizing that the work will be ongoing and will require help because blindspots are always present and impossible to notice until someone else points them out.
“As an organization and as a community, we have made many important and large strides in improving our communication with various members of our community, or various communities in our community, and we also recognize there’s always room for improvement,” said Bryana Starbuck, public information officer for Glenwood Springs. “So we’ve done a lot, and we continue to look for ways that we can do better.”
The city quickly realized where they needed to begin, with communications, and they started with the goal of making messaging as accessible as possible, Starbuck said.
Emergency information is the top priority for immediate translation and interpretation since it has such an impact on the community, she said.
New programs or big policy changes are next, like police information or utility information, and even parks and recreation are also selected for translation and interpretation.
“Our public meeting notices include, ‘If you need information in an alternative format, or interpretation or translation to let us know, and we will do everything that we can to make those accommodations happen,’” Starbuck said. “Because we know that public meetings are public, and we want people to be able to participate.”
Currently the majority of requests are for providing information in Spanish, but Starbuck said that she predicts that demand for American Sign Language will grow with awareness.
“Our community center recently reported that roughly 20% of their calls are from primarily Spanish-speaking customers,” she said. “Other departments have also shared growing inquiries from Spanish-language calls including utility billing, which is seeing a similar Spanish-language call volume.”
She said the city began incorporating ASL interpretation automatically into larger special events like the Art Center reopening, Pride Festival and the ADA celebration, named for the Americans with Disabilities Act. This has been made possible by Rural Auxiliary Services through the Colorado Commission for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and DeafBlind, which operates under the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Both Ooton and Starbuck said city staff actively research to provide culturally relevant translations for Spanish. Starbuck said that even the words for city hall have multiple Spanish translations depending on what country or region people are from.
The city also included the Spanish speaking community in focus groups for the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and they plan to host a picnic in September to help follow up with that information.
There is also a push to make city websites more accessible for everyone. The first step has been to add an accessibility icon to the city’s public broadband website to accommodate people with vision impairment or dyslexia, or to give people the ability to change line spacing and contrast on the site.
Starbuck encouraged residents to sign up for text or email alerts in order to receive any city alerts in both English and Spanish at Cogs.us/info.
Within the last two years, the city has focused on hiring new staff positions in order to create more accessibility throughout the city. One such hire is Community & Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor Kaleb Cook, who helps with adaptive sports and inclusivity throughout the city.
“We just want to create an inclusive atmosphere for everyone to have fun and enjoy,” he said.
Another new hire is Gladys Arango-Marcon, who is the community engagement coordinator. Spanish is her first language, and she has greatly helped bridge gaps between the city and the Spanish-speaking community in Glenwood Springs.
Arango-Marcon said she has been able to connect more with the community, especially the Latino community. She said she serves as a guide between the city and the community to help them understand what resources are available and what programs are going on, and to connect people who have questions with the right person.
Additional city staff members are bilingual in Spanish and English, which has greatly helped with communication throughout the city, Starbuck said.
Accessibility is also vital when it comes to public infrastructure. After Seventh Street was refinished and repaved to be more of a community space, it was brought to the city’s attention that the project created new challenges for those with visual impairments, in particular those who used a walking stick.
Having a flat transition from sidewalk to street made it much harder for someone who uses a walking stick to know where one ends and the other begins.
Challenges like this are now receiving more active consideration with the planning for reconstructing the Sixth Street Landing. The city received a grant to convert Sayre Park’s playground to an entirely accessible playground; construction is slated for 2023.
Activities and Outreach
Shortly after moving to the Roaring Fork Valley, Cook said he was excited to see how the community celebrated Pride Month, only to find out that there was no Pride parade in June anywhere in the valley.
He understood the importance of the parade to young LGBTQ+ members of the community still learning who they are and was determined to see Glenwood Springs host an inaugural Pride celebration.
“Kaleb has just really helped me express myself and helped me show my pride and self love,” said Sophia Williams who helped Cook with both Pride and the ADA celebration.
She said she really appreciated the representation both groups brought to the valley.
“Seeing all of our community together and seeing people connect,” she said. “Like, I was helping guide around a blind man while signing to a deaf person at the same time, and it was just such a special event that was happening. I’ve never experienced something like that.”
Cook also decided to have the city participate in a less known celebration for the ADA celebration month. Most cities don’t have ADA celebrations — even Denver doesn’t even have a large-scale ADA celebration. But creating that space in Glenwood Springs helped provide an important opportunity to connect as a community.
“It’s an opportunity for us to really highlight the disability community and the amazing strides that we’ve made for and with them,” he said.
Cook also found while doing some community meet and greet that having a community playdate was well appreciated and popular enough to make it a weekly event. He set it at Veltus Park to make it outdoor and open for all and chose the park because it was tucked away just enough to help suppress the noise of cars passing by to help people who might get overwhelmed with sensory stimulation.
“A lot of times people have a lot of misconceptions about people with disabilities because they just are not exposed or have not had the opportunity to be around or surrounded by people or family or friends that have disabilities. It’s a great opportunity to have a really fun activity for people to kind of gain that understanding and acceptance,” Cook said.
Previously the article stated that Sophia Williams was an ASL interpreter. Williams in not certified as an ASL interpreter.
What: Latino Community Picnic
Where: Sayre Park, 1702 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs
When: 12:30 p.m.- 3 p.m. Aug. 21
Why: Final input in for the Comprehensive Plan
What: Inclusive Play
Where: Veltus Park, 901 Midland Ave., Glenwood Springs
When: 6-7 p.m. Wednesdays until Aug. 10
What: Yoga in Spanish
Where:Glenwood Springs Parks & Recreation, 100 Wulfsohn Road
When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday nights
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