Region 16 deploys new technology to overcome language barriers

Region 16 Head Start and Early Head Start in Amarillo is implementing a mobile device to help staff communicate with people who don't speak English (Drew Powell ABC 7 News)

A mobile device is helping the staff at Region 16 Head Start and Early Head Start to better communicate with people from foreign country's. The device is called "ELSA" Enabling Language Services Anywhere is being implemented in time for the up-coming school year. The purpose of the device is to knock down barriers and to establish a relationship in one of 190 languages.

"You literally punch a button and they say what language and you can tell what language and usually within a minute or less there's a live interpreter that comes on," said John Lemons, RTT Mobile Representative. "You can tell then what your going to do, the device has more than 190 languages and 15,000 live interpreters."

"When ELSA came about six months ago they began speaking to us about the program," said Dennis Sarine, Coordinator of Quality Assurance for Region 16. "It has the ability to reach families of 190 different languages. With a touch point you can call out and have a translator within minutes."

Kelly Kenedy, is a principal for Region 16 Head Start, she tells ABC 7 News, in the last seven years she's seen an increase in the number of students from foreign countries in the Texas Panhandle. Communicating can be a challenge until the students learn English.

"In order to build a relationship we want to be able to communicate with them and we want them to feel comfortable at school," said Kelly Kenedy, Principal. "We would like for them to be able to access us anytime as well."

With the influx of students and their families from abroad the director of direct services for Region 16 tells ABC 7 News, the "ELSA" device can do more than overcome a language barrier. The device can help people transition into a new community.

"We're beginning to serve more and more students with different languages that are coming in as some of the refugee families," said Melissa Shaver, Director of Direct Services Region 16. "We really try to provide services to them to help them integrate in the community. This will help us provide those services to them."

A Federal grant is providing funding for Region 16 to cover cost of purchasing the new devices. Shaver, tells ABC 7 News, the mobile devices can also be used by staff when having to conduct home visits to communicate with parents.

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