Site translates health care info

Minnesota is making it easier for people who don't speak English to visit its Department of Human Services Web site for health care information.

Links from the site's home page (www.dhs.state.mn.us) enable people to apply for or renew their health insurance in Arabic, Hmong, Khmer, Lao, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese in addition to English.

Stephanie Radtke, electronic government services manager for the health care eligibility and access division of Human Services, said the department picked those languages because, after English, they are the most commonly spoken in Minnesota. Radtke said that the state has the largest population of Somalis in the United States, for example.

Radtke said that federal nondiscrimination laws prompted the department to translate the forms more than a year ago. But when a consortium of people who speak English as a second language sued the state, claiming that the translated information was still too difficult to find, the department made translated links available on its home page. The lawsuit has been settled.

"So what we did is essentially reduce the number of links dramatically for [people] to get to the translated forms they need," Radtke said.

Rather than use a less-than-perfect translation application, such as Babel Fish from AltaVista Co., Minnesota hired translators to do the work. "This isn't done on the fly," Radtke said. "These are official government forms relating to a sensitive area and we can't afford errors."

Radtke said the operation was "fairly inexpensive," with the translations constituting the bulk of the work and costing about $60,000. Linking the material from the home page cost about $500.

Iowa added the Babel Fish translation feature to its site in February, enabling visitors to translate material into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. California and Arizona and other government sites have portions of their Web sites available in Spanish.

Radtke said that state officials are considering translating more of the site and may make video available for download with translated audio. She also said she is looking into partnering with local community aid organizations to create Web sites that provide translated information on insurance.

"To most [people who don't speak English] in our state, these are foreign concepts," Radtke said. "They usually have no idea what an HMO is, or [what] a primary care provider means, and so we want to include information that will provide the education they would need to better apply for health care."

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