More Than Words: Working Through Language Barriers in Healthcare

May 24, 2023 08:36PM

Maria Canales was her family's English-to-Spanish translator growing up. 

She began going with her parents to medical appointments when she was nine. Her family had recently moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico and her parents struggled to learn English. In addition, Canales was "the baby" of the family, so she was always with one of her parents. 

From filling out forms to explaining her parents’ ailments to the doctors, Canales said translating for people became an ingrained daily task. Simple things like acronyms were a challenge for her parents, she added.

“Tons of times they gave me this prescription [and said] 'can you read what it says on the bottle?' Something as simple as that,” Canales said.

Although Latinos are the second largest ethnic group in the U.S, only 7% of doctors identify as Latino nationwide, according to Pew Research Center. In addition, the American Board of Family Medicine estimates that 22% of family physicians were fluent in Spanish nationwide from 2013 to 2019.

The lack of bilingual providers causes language barriers across all medical fields and leads to poorer health outcomes.

“The person goes home [after an appointment], they’ve gotten a prescription, they have no clue how to take it,” Canales said. “They’ve gotten no directions, but whatever’s on the paper, and the pharmacy is not going to print it in Spanish.”

Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act Reintroduced


Schakowsky Reintroduces Legislation to Guarantee Home-Use Medical Devices are Accessible to Blind and Low Vision Americans

March 1, 2023

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), a Chief Deputy Whip and Ranking Member on the Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, led 32 of her colleagues in reintroducing the bipartisan Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. This bill would ensure that home-use medical devices are accessible to blind and low vision Americans across the country.

“I am proud to reintroduce the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act, to ensure that medical devices, like insulin pumps and blood pressure monitors, are truly accessible to people who are blind or have low vision," said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky." Over seven million Americans are living with uncorrectable vision loss and more than one million Americans are blind. In many cases, a blind person's ability to manage their health and livelihood depends upon the ability to use these devices. As Americans, we cannot stand idly by while people who are blind or have low vision are excluded from a full, happy, and independent life due to these inaccessible technologies. This bill will help foster more inclusive and accessible care.”

The Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create and enforce nonvisual accessibility standards for home-use medical devices, so that devices are fully accessible to blind or low-vision persons, out of the box. The bill also requires the FDA to consult with the disability community and manufacturers throughout the process.

"For millions of Americans who live with vision loss, visual impairment, low vision and blindness, accessing the results of at-home test kits, blood pressure and glucose monitors as well as other health and medical devices that have a digital interface is vital for these individuals to manage their own health and well-being and to meet the challenges of daily living. Prevent Blindness believes that visual accessibility is a matter of health equity and that addressing it can lead to improved health outcomes for patients," said Jeff Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness. "The Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act is a necessary step toward ensuring people with visual impairments can equitably access information and make decisions about their own health and well-being. Prevent Blindness applauds Rep. Schakowsky for introducing this legislation, and we urge Congress to pass it swiftly."

“For far too long, inaccessible home-use medical devices and remote monitoring equipment has posed a direct threat to the health, safety, and independence of people who are blind and low vision. The American Council of the Blind commends Rep. Schakowsky for introducing this critical legislation, and we urge its swift passage,” said Eric Bridges, Executive Director of American Council of the Blind.

"Life-sustaining medical devices used in the home, such as insulin pumps and CPAP devices, have the potential to help blind people live the lives we want, but only if they are fully accessible," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "Currently, however, the inaccessible design of most of these devices makes their controls and displays difficult, or even impossible, for us to use them or monitor their operation. This is not a mere inconvenience; inaccessibility threatens our independence, health, and safety. Full access to all features of a device is critical and achievable. We therefore commend Representative Schakowsky for introducing this legislation and urge members of Congress to act swiftly to pass it."

Joining Rep. Schakowsky as original cosponsors are Reps. Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Cori Bush (MO-01), Ed Case (HI-01), Sean Casten (IL-06), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), Jesus "Chuy" García (IL-04), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Angie Craig (MN-02), Danny Davis (IL-07), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-07), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Bill Keating (MA-09), Dan Kildee (MI-08), Annie Kuster (NH-02), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), John Larson (CT-01), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Jimmy Panetta (CA-19), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mike Quigley (IL-05), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), John Rutherford (FL-05), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Pete Sessions (TX-17), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Adam Smith (WA-09), Dina Titus (NV-01), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), David Trone (MD-06), and Marc Veasey (TX-33).

National Federation of the Blind Press Release


National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Commends General Assembly for Requiring Accessible Prescription Labels

New Law Will Enhance Safety and Independence of Blind Marylanders

BALTIMORE, Maryland (May 8, 2023): The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) applauds the Maryland General Assembly for passing a law that requires pharmacies to provide appropriate access to prescription labels for individuals who are blind or otherwise print disabled. This service will be provided free of charge for patients who need it. The legislation was signed into law yesterday by Governor Wes Moore.

The Maryland Board of Pharmacy is now tasked with creating regulations to enforce the implementation of accessible prescription labels at pharmacies throughout the state, according to the legislation.

This is an initiative that the National Federation of the Blind has supported for some time. The transformative membership organization of blind Americans authored a Model Bill to support the need for accessible prescription label legislation across the states. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland used this model bill as a stepping stone to work with state legislators to introduce the legislation.

“In a nutshell, as of January 1, 2025, any of us in Maryland should be able to walk into our local pharmacy or call in a prescription, tell them we want accessible labels in Braille or large print or audio, and get those prescriptions with the label type of our choice, at no extra cost to us, in the same timeframe as any other patient,” explained Ronza Othman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. “I want to particularly thank delegate Michele Guyton and Senator C. Anthony Muse for sponsoring this legislation and seeing it through to passage, and we commend the General Assembly for understanding how critically important this is to blind Marylanders.”

For a copy of the legislation, click here.

Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
410-659-9314, extension 2330
410-262-1281 (cell)

Aloha to Accessible Prescriptions in Hawaii

May 2, 2023 the Hawaii House and Senate both passed legislation requiring pharmacies to provide patients who are blind, visually impaired or print impaired with accessible prescription labels.  The law is now headed to the governor who is expected to sign it

The final version of the bill requires pharmacies to: provide an electronic label affixed to the prescription bottle and/or a prescription drug reader.

Pharmacies must also make sustained, periodic and reasonable efforts to inform the public that accessible label formats are available. 

The Board of Pharmacy will have the ability to grant exemptions to the law for sole proprietorship pharmacies with no more than two pharmacists who can demonstrate it would be a financial burden. The Board can also deny, revoke, or suspend a pharmacy license or impose a fine of up to $1000 per violation for failure to comply.

The law goes into effect July 1, 2023 and the Board of Pharmacy has until December 31, 2024 to finalize the rules and regulations for full implementation and enforcement. 

To see full text of the law: