Digital Literacy Across Cultures

This week I found an interesting connection between  Chapter 7: Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures in Spilka’s (2010) Digital Literacy for Technical Communication and the workplace. Spilka discusses that accessing and understanding digital media in some communication settings is one meaning of digital literacy. The chapter specifically focuses on the US EPA (EPA) and the Mexican Counterpart Semarnat.

I work for a state agency in the natural resources division.  Specifically  public dining water regulation.  This chapter made me think about the audience we had while regulating drinking water quality and how culture plays a part in who has access to the information and what information is available.

There are a few ways the public can receive heath information about possible contaminates in their drinking water.  They could initiate the gathering of information by accessing our website.  A significant amount of information is available and many  publications are available in PDF form to save or print.  The other way they could gather information is if they work at a business with drinking water issues and see postings in the break room and by faucets or fountains.  They also could go to a number of local businesses such as a church, bar or restaurant and find the same posted information.

Our publications have been created to include multiple versions for some of the hot topic issues such as lead and lead.  Both brochures are available in English, Spanish and Hmong.


Another way we offer multi language support is through our customer service lines.  You can talk to someone on the phone, a chat through the website, or email in your questions.  All three of these services are available in English, Spanish or Hmong.

The main idea I had while thinking about this post was what happens when someone is no longer seeking this information out but a sensitive population that is unable to access this information due to cultural issues.  It is no secret that we have undocumented workers in Wisconsin.  If one of these undocumented workers work at a location with water contamination issues such as nitrates it may be difficult for them to understand they are at risk if the information is not given to them.

When there is a specific contaminate violation often times  businesses have to post a public notice that alerts the consumers to the public health risk.  While we do provide language in the violation that if they have 5% or more non English speaking consumers they also need to post in the most common language.  What percentage of these at risk non English speaking consumers will actually receive this information?

Further digging on our website came up with a number of resources specifically to translation and public notices.  These are great resources for businesses that need to public notice but I still feel like not all at risk consumes get the same amount of information as their English speaking counterparts.

Posted on November 12, 2017, in Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Technology, Workplace and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. When I moved back to Wisconsin after my divorce, I took a job teaching ESL to mexican migrant workers. I had no experience, yet felt confident that with the assistance of a college student majoring in Spanish, I would be successful. However, I soon hit a brick wall. My students could not read their native language, so how could I expect them to learn English? Plus, I was unaware of some cultural issues. The curriculum given to me required I teach them how to open a bank account. Most of these students did not trust banking institutions, however. So, I was set up to teach these students how to assimilate into our community without truly understanding my audience–their cultural beliefs and values. Plus, I do not speak Spanish either. Let’s just say. . . there was a lot of pointing and “acting out scenarios” and having my assistant translate into Spanish. Luckily, their was learning–perhaps more of a result of empathy–their empathy of watching me struggle to communicate with them and vice-versa. In the end, the students seemed more comfortable with me and other Americans and were more likely to trust for guidance etc. Perhaps, that is the necessary first hurdle.

  2. Thanks for sharing about your company.

    “The main idea I had while thinking about this post was what happens when someone is no longer seeking this information out but a sensitive population that is unable to access this information due to cultural issues”
    This is a really interesting point. Especially for visitors who are not within the range of known other languages. It seems like the obvious answer is that it’s just the risk that they take if they are not able to speak English. But logic seems so cruel in this case.

  3. Thanks for sharing your perspectives. I hadn’t considered a lot of the issues non-English speakers face. Water quality is a very important issue. I usually see boil orders on the news, but that outlet would not do non-English speakers any good. Miriam is right. It seems cruel to exclude this group from this information.

    Hopefully church groups or other organizations these populations trust help disseminate your notices.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Jennifer R.

  4. Good points here about cultures. I wonder how age factors in for your organization. I think it’s been studied that older audiences prefer PDFs since it’s something they could print out, but how does information spread to those without computers? Are there stats on the numbers of phone calls the customer service lines receive?

    Finally, might this be a topic you want to explore further in your final paper, or do you think you’re too close to it to examine it critically?

    • Good idea! I do think this is something that could work for my final paper. We do have stats available for calls taken and wait times etc.

  1. Pingback: Access to Health Care Information for Non-English Speakers | Communication Strategies for Emerging Media

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