Precautionary Boil Water Advisory

Social Empathy for the Underprivileged

The City has prioritized equity reports over the past couple of years and has allocated enough resources for the gathering, design, and distribution of such reports.

Let’s ask ourselves, who is better off having access to such a report? How does it affect the quality of life of our residents? How did it ensure the safety and well being of each and every one living in our community?

We are all aware that our city and county have changed substantially in terms of demographic shift since the 80’s, making Chittenden County the most diverse county in our state and Burlington one of the most diverse municipalities in Vermont. According to a 2017 report from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, 97% of the population growth in our county was due to New Americans.

Recently in the city we have seen tools being created to improve communications, dashboards are being developed, and systems are in trial phase. None of these tools address the fundamental role of public governance to keep people safe by making city communications accessible to everyone.

During a similar water boiling notice that took place in late July 2019 in the South End of Burlington, I shifted my work schedule to make sure information was communicated to four major language community groups in Burlington, and then requested for the city to implement a language access plan for such communication to be accessible and understood by all community members. The Administration reassured me then that the the Community Economic and Development Office was leading the effort to develop a “language access plan” which would have an emphasis on outreach to speakers with limited English proficiency.

It’s incontestable that when we prioritize serving the people, timely, accurate and equitable communication tools should be accessed by all members of the community especially when the lack of communication could have a detrimental effect on the health and quality of life of members of the community.

The real and important question to be asked is why the City of Burlington is relying on Facebook alone to share translated written messages? Why has the administration not tapped into the effective communication tools of the Burlington School District to share life saving information to parents and guardians of our children?

Equality is defined as everyone having shoes, whereas equity is defined as everyone having shoes that fit them. We can only learn to harmonize many competing priorities by starting to make communication accessible to everyone. This is a request to shift resources from the general equity report and focus on an equitable language access plan.