Speak My Language: Advocating for Culturally Accessible Healthcare

February 26, 2020

Our office is excited to partner with Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice on the launch of Speak My Language, a project that features 5 radio documentaries created by teams of youth and Chinese seniors. We chatted with Yulanda Lui from Yarrow to talk about about Speak My Language and the formal launch of the campaign on Saturday, March 7.

When you go to the doctor, typically you don’t need to think twice about how you will communicate your symptoms. But imagine if you’re in a foreign place where you don’t know how to speak the language. This is a common experience for many Chinese seniors as they navigate the BC healthcare system.

“Language is a huge barrier across primary, secondary, and emergency care for Chinese seniors,” Yulanda said in a phone interview. “Some seniors don’t have family doctors who speak their language, and for those that do, sometimes going to see a specialist or the hospital is difficult because of the language barrier.”

A lot of Yarrow’s programming centers around the desire to empower Chinese seniors and support them in getting the necessary care they need. This comes about through medical accompaniment and education around how the BC health care system works. “For many seniors, there may be differences between the health care system here in BC versus what they are familiar with back home,” Yulanda said.

The radio documentaries that came together through Speak My Language provided an opportunity for youth to collaborate with Chinese seniors in telling their stories and experiences. Some of the youth producers who worked on these documentaries shared with Yulanda how rewarding it was to hear the stories of these community elders. “[These youth] were invited into these peoples’ lives and trusted with the stories of their health,” she said.

Ethics was a huge part of this project, and there was lots of discussion around how to tell these stories with respect: “What does it mean for people to share these intimate stories, and how do youth share them in a proper way?” Yulanda said.

“What does it mean for people to share these intimate stories, and how do youth share them in a proper way?”


The five, full length radio documentaries created by the youth and senior teams will be shared publicly at the formal launch event called Speak My Language: Celebrating Our Stories. Yulanda, along with the producers of the documentaries and the Yarrow team, is incredibly excited for the launch event. “It is an opportunity to bring together the community to celebrate and listen directly from the producers and seniors on what their experiences have been like in creating these documentaries, as well as to shine a light on these experiences and stories in the health care system that might not be heard on a regular basis,” Yulanda said. “This project has been a great opportunity to raise awareness within the community, as well as for stakeholders and the general public.”

In terms of next steps, Yulanda says that Speak My Language is the first step in launching a campaign to advocate for equal access to health care for all, regardless of their English proficiency. She says that there needs to be more awareness and public education around the importance of interpretation, particularly in non-English or low-English proficiency communities like Chinatown and beyond.

To learn more about Speak My Language and to get a sneak preview of the radio documentaries, visit Yarrow’s website.

Join us for the public launch of Speak My Language: Celebrating Our Stories!
ree, all welcome
Saturday, March 7 | 2:00-4:00 PM
Doors at 1:30 PM
Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema (3rd Floor), SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 W. Hastings St., Vancouver
There will be Cantonese and Mandarin translation as well as ASL interpretation available.

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