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Language Access is for Everyone: Translating Advocacy Jargon for Crisis Callers

by Elisabeth Swim, MA | Daya Helpline Advocate

Case management, crisis intervention, economic stability assistance and rehousing are terms our client-service database knows very well. When I use any of these terms with crisis callers, no matter what their first language may be, it interrupts the flow of our conversation. While terms that describe the kind of professional skills and effort required to provide a service might make it possible for funders and government-regulation agencies to approve our services, this language is seldom accessible to help-seekers themselves.

With the increase in cases of abuse and assault since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the gradual de-stigmatization of reporting abuse since the #MeToo movement went global, caseloads at abuse-recovery agencies worldwide have gone up. I as an advocate might be tempted to speed through intakes using the readily available jargon. But to a survivor who has never sought help before, my use of these heady terms can be off-putting.

How can I offer the most accessible language to a survivor about the services my organization provides, without overstating what we do or promising what we can’t deliver? Here are some guidelines I try to follow during calls:

  • Listen for the language the caller uses to describe their goals for recovery

  • Use the same language (whenever possible) to describe referrals and services available

  • Translate any misleading service names when jargon needs to be used in order for a client to self advocate. For example, “rapid rehousing” isn’t necessarily rapid, but here are the ways in which it is different from emergency shelter or rental assistance …

  • Check for understanding at the end of the call by asking what the caller’s next steps are

  • Gauge the client’s help-seeking history and use language that matches. For example, for first-time help-seekers, use language that is as simple as possible to describe services

  • Adapt to a caller’s abilities: callers with head injuries might need multiple repetitions of service scope and definitions before lasting comprehension is available

To contact Daya’s confidential helpline, call 713-981-7645. Although our business hours are 9am-5pm on weekdays, we do receive messages left at any time of day. Calls are returned within 1-2 working days.

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