Group strives to simplify documents

Utility bills, bank statements and government application forms are among the documents people receive every day but may have trouble understandin

Document translator Bob Doherty points to a sample of the documents his team has to deal with.

Utility bills, bank statements and government application forms are among the documents people receive every day but may have trouble understanding.

According to the City of Red Deer’s 2006 census, 7,302 of citizens have brain injuries or developmental disabilities, which the Central Alberta Self Advocates say can affect their ability to read and understand words.

Understanding complex words and paragraphs is also an issue for people who are still learning English.

The solution: Translation services offered by a group of developmentally disabled adults who have become experts at making sense of documents.

Group members have offered a translation service for five years or so, says member Bob Doherty, 54, of Lacombe. Until recently, their work was funded as a pilot project through Persons with Developmental Disabilities.

Now members have formed the not-for-profit Plain Language Society.

Its five teams of translators, including four pairs and one team of three, come from service agencies, including the Lacombe Action Group, Michener Services, Catholic Social Services and Central Alberta Residence Society.

Doherty said he cannot recall how many documents he has worked on with his partner, Sandra Abma.

Ironically, many of the documents are vital forms and minutes from Persons with Developmental Disabilities. Their most challenging translation so far was PDD’s 30-page 2008-09 business plan, which the pair slogged through over about four months, said Doherty.

“Whenever our turn comes up, we do it on Tuesdays or Thursdays, whatever our schedules permit,” he said.

“It’s hard on the brain. We take out the complicated words and put in easier words. We go paragraph by paragraph and try to figure out what it’s trying to say.”

It would be nice to have more translators to expand the two-member teams to three, said Doherty. That way, if one member is unavailable, the other two could carry on.

While translators work on a wide variety of written material, they do not attempt to translate any legal documents, said Karli Eckart, business development manager for Central Alberta Self Advocates.

Program fees are under review, said Eckart. At this point, the group charges $30 per hour, with each team member receiving $12.50. Various agencies involved with the group provide facilitators to support the teams, but the final product is all in the words of the translators, she said.

Information about Central Alberta Self Advocates is available online at or by calling 403-346-4636, ext. 117.

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