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Disaster Aid for All: Emergency Services Hindered by Language Barriers

Photo by guy.mccarthy via LAist Featured Photos on Flickr
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This post by LAist intern Kristy Pyke was produced via Spot.Us, a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change. It is an open source project to pioneer “community powered reporting.”

Marta Lopez sat in church one Sunday as her head spun and her thoughts became blank. She recovered consciousness and stared in confusion as paramedics standing over her asked questions she could not answer. Lopez, a Spanish-speaking El Salvadoran, struggled not only to regain her senses but simultaneously muster up the little English she knew to describe a heart condition that had caused her to faint.

"I didn't know what they were asking. It is frustrating to not be able to express what you are feeling," explained Lopez in Spanish.

In 2009, the U.S Census Bureau estimated that among the 9.8 million people in Los Angeles County, 47 percent are Hispanic or Latino and 13 percent are Asian. In total, around 56 percent of L.A.'s population does not consider English to be its first language, meaning almost 5.5 million residents deal with language barriers to some capacity.