Navigating taxes — it’s notoriously tricky. But for customers faced with limited language access, the challenges only heighten.
The installment of translation devices among Alachua County Tax Collector’s offices, however, could be a step toward easing the problem.
Pocketalk was installed into Alachua County’s three tax collector locations in September. The two-way translation device, resembling a cell phone, requires the user to speak into the device, which then translates speech verbally.
Alachua County Tax Collector John Power said he’s observed an ongoing problem of language barriers, and he’s questioned how to create a customer-friendly environment for all.
“We serve customers from all over the world,” Power said. “There's various languages that are spoken, so we would often struggle to communicate the process.”
Power said the decision to officially install the service was receiving positive feedback from the Hillsborough Tax Collector Office, which began using the devices in July.
Senior customer service agent Mariah Beard at the Alachua County Tax Collector Office frequently uses the devices to assist citizens with driver’s license tests and other services like title transitions and property tax payments.
“I think that it's made a huge impact in our organization by being able to help our customers and give customers who don't speak English better customer service,” Beard said.
Beard said she administered driver’s license exams and recalled how confusing the tests could be for a customer who was tested simultaneously on driving and language proficiency.
Social service manager at the Rural Women’s Health Project and volunteer at the Gainesville Immigrant Neighborhood Inclusion Adriana Menendez said she believes the implementation of translation devices is an influential step toward breaking those barriers.
Menendez and her colleagues at the Gainesville Immigrant Neighborhood Inclusion advocate for language access among Alachua County, especially in schools and other county resources.
Pocketalk devices are also being used at UF’s Library West and Fine Arts and Architecture Library, Lisa Campbell, UF instruction and outreach librarian, wrote in an email.
The devices have been able to establish a friendlier environment, Power said.
“It’s fun to see how the customers react,” he said. “They smile because now they feel they can communicate clearly.”
He’s seen a positive impact on both customers and employees since the arrival of the devices.
“Once you remove that language barrier, it makes everything else much easier,” he said. “I believe it's proven to be a useful tool for our employees and eases the pressure on them and absolutely on the customer.”
Yodelix Melendez, an 18-year-old UF marine biology sophomore, grew up in Gainesville observing her family work through financial transactions.
Melendez said when her parents moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S., they didn’t know any English.
“I can imagine that it was difficult to do their taxes because of this,” she said.
Power said he is excited to continue using the devices and create a simpler process for all residents using the tax collectors’ services.
Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major, and she's the caimán desk editor this semester. In her free time, she enjoys reading, journaling, and watching musicals.