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Translation services with fairness in mind

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In 2009, AT&T commissioned Virginia Joplin, an independent translator, to lead a large project for the company.The job lasted four months, had a budget of $60,000, and required Joplin to manage over 100 people for a translation job with 16 different languages.

“I was handling it all by myself,” says Joplin, who is an Official Translator between French, English, and Spanish, with “beginner-level skills” in six more languages.

The AT&T contract required Joplin to use all the miscellaneous skills she had acquired over the years outside of translating—including voice-over recording and localization engineering, or adapting software for a new language, country, and culture.

“It was basically everything Verbio does today,” she says.

Though tough, the project was a success. And with that confidence boost, Joplin decided to hire more people and expand her independent contracting into a full- fledged business.

Today, Portland-based Verbio m provides translation- related services for everything from well-known companies like Intel, to individuals looking for help translating documents like birth certificates. Verbio also translates for websites, interprets in-person conversations, and has its own recording studio for companies to do voice-overs for advertisements, among other services.

The company offers its services in “every language,” says Joplin,“from Afrikaans to Zulu and everything in between.”

Joplin places a careful focus on operating in a fair and just manner for both workers and customers, and to providing individualized attention. Larger corporations care less about customers and employees, and more about the results, she says.

“Some competitors produce greater volumes [than Verbio], faster and cheaper. But they tend to underpay language professionals,” she says, noting that both large corporations and the government often lowball interpreters and translators on their rates.

In addition, she says, “Large competitors often don’t serve individuals because it’s not worth their time, or they charge huge fees to deter that.”

Verbio, on the other hand, is happy to provide individual consumers with written translation services for a fair, affordable price.

Determined to operate green, Joplin encourages employees to conserve energy by offering subsidies for those who bike to work, telecommute, and take public transportation.The office also boasts recycled paint and pre-owned furniture, and the Verbio website is hosted by Affordable Internet Services Online m (see p. 66), which is completely solar-powered.

Verbio places a high importance on diversity.“100 percent of Verbio’s employees belong to an ethnic and/ or gender minority,” says Joplin. “Furthermore, 70 percent of our contractors are women and 70 percent are ethnic minorities.”

All employees and contractors earn a fair wage.

“Our goal is to pay more than the state rate. It has to be a living wage because we want to have highly trained people,” she says.

In addition, Verbio personnel go the extra mile to help their clients connect meaningfully with others across language and cultural barriers.

“We have been continuously educating our customers and business contacts about the importance of connecting with their communities in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways,” Joplin says.

For example, in 2015, as the federal government was rolling out the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Joplin and her staff at Verbio met a state representative from the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace.They took the opportunity to ask how Oregon was planning to meet ACA provisions for reaching out and providing services to citizens with limited English-speaking abilities.

The rep was unaware of the legal requirements, so Verbio held multiple free consultation meetings with state government personnel to educate them about those laws, as well as how Verbio could help through interpretation, translation, and other services.

As a result, in October 2016, Oregon and Verbio rolled out a pilot program
in which they gave select insurance agents a 24/7 hotline number to access interpretation services for clients who spoke languages other than English, as well as an agreement to provide on-site interpreters and to translate forms when those agents needed those services.

“Verbio naturally works within a setting that is attuned to Title VI of the Civil Rights Amendment—non-discrimination on the basis of national origin,” says Joplin.“We strive to educate all our business connections about the importance of coherent and meaningful language access.”

To most people, interpreters and translators are a passing thought when they think about or attend meetings like the C40 Cities Summit, where Verbio was hired to help interpret conversations about sustainability and urban planning between politicians from 20 different member countries.

But although Verbio’s work may often be overlooked, Joplin believes that is a good thing when it comes to customer satisfaction:“An interpreter is doing her job right when she’s invisible.”