Overcoming Barriers – Creating a More Accessible Public Lands Framework – Francisco Vázquez

I’ve had many conversations here in Alaska, but none as important as the one I recently shared with my supervisor Clarence Wadkins.

As I have shared in a previous blog, I’m serving at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (APLIC) as the Virtual Outreach and Education Specialist. During my time here, I have worked with the general public to provide information about the public lands in Alaska. While doing so, I have interacted with many different people with different backgrounds and different interests. It was hard at first, mainly because I did not know much about the public lands, but with time, I gained knowledge through exposure to this information and hands-on experience in the field. I now feel like I can freely talk to visitors and answer questions without worrying about not knowing something, but there’s a slight issue: I can only do it in English.

My background and undergrad degree are in Spanish, and I can hold a conversation in Spanish, except when it comes to specific information about public lands since I have never been exposed to this information in any other language other than English. In any other situation, if I didn’t know something, I could turn to a Park Ranger or pull out a park guidebook and have a means of communicating with visitors and provide the information they were looking for. I’ve had a few instances like these during my time here, and they made me question my abilities; how could I make an impact if I couldn’t get a simple message across to our visitors? And this got me thinking about how much of the information that we provide as guides, visitor centers, sites is accessible to those who may not speak English or those who are visually impaired?

In the past few weeks, alongside working in our visitor center, I have begun translating some of the information that we have publicly available to Spanish. It’s a long process but well worth it, especially if it means it’s accessible to more people as a means to educate them. A very apparent issue still exists, the exhibits, interpretive signs, the programs we have, they’re all primarily in English, and in my project, I will be exploring what efforts could be made to create materials that are available in multiple languages or how information can be provided when one is not physically present at a park or site.  

My supervisor, Clarence, has taught me that we must first teach someone to care about something, in this context, our public lands, to get them to care for it. How can we instill a sense of stewardship among visitors if they do not know why protecting our public lands is important?

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