Veronica Plaza says that although what you don’t know can’t hurt you, it certainly can’t help you either.
Plaza, 47, along with her Medical Spanish class, seeks to educate UNM’s student population on the implications of the Affordable Care Act. Commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” the ACA is being rolled out in a form that the state has dubbed “Yes, New Mexico.”
“The approach is that our student body population, if you look at undergrads, is close to 18,000 students,” Plaza said. “It’s a large community, larger than many towns in New Mexico. I believe that, as an educational institution, we have the responsibility to provide a healthy environment for our students. Health leads to academic achievement.”
Originally from Argentina, Plaza has been working at the University of New Mexico since 1997.
“I originally started teaching in the medical school,” Plaza said. “I saw the need for our student population to learn medical Spanish because, as soon as they start doing their clinical work, they are faced with a population of patients that they cannot speak with.”
Plaza has taught pre-medical classes in Spanish, and has involved students in the translation and education work necessary to create an informed community as healthcare reform goes into motion.
“The information that was there (on the website) before the release of the applications was good,” Plaza said. “However, when the applications for signing up rolled out, that was when we learned things were not working and websites that were in Spanish would forward you back to websites in English. The issue is how we can be in compliance with the Title VI Act, which states that we do not discriminate at all due to language.”
Plaza said that she and her class then started working to make information on “Obamacare” clearer for New Mexicans who aren’t fluent in English, as well as to make the applications and details of “Yes, New Mexico” accessible to everyone.
“One of the things I would like to highlight about this initiative is it being student-led,” Plaza said, “What (my students) did was work to help develop an audio version of ‘Yes, New Mexico’ and try to reach out to the population that has a low literacy level and (is) not computer-savvy.”
Henry Foreman, a graduate student in community and regional planning who is one of the student leaders in the program, said good translations of legislation, especially translations of medical legislation, are important, and the need for them is under-acknowledged.
“In terms of translation, I don’t think the vast majority of the people here at the University and even here around Albuquerque realize how many people speak more than one language or just speak one language that isn’t English,” Foreman said, “Coming from an immigrant family myself, it’s so important that we take the time to make sure that everything is translated and translated well.”
Plaza, Foreman and the rest of the class will be in the ethnic foyer of Mesa Vista Hall for “Get Covered Fridays,” an event that aims to help answer questions and get people registered for Obamacare. The event runs every Friday until the end of April.