Speaking in Tongues

How the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank Stays Afloat in a Sea of Languages

Orig Mar 7, 2019, Revised Aug 31, 2023

Communication Matters

There are 350 languages spoken in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, 20 percent of the people in the United States speak a language other than English in their home. For an organization like the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank (RMLEB), it means being prepared for anything.

 “Death eventually touches everyone,” explained the eye bank’s manager of community and professional relations (CPR), “and that means we have to be prepared to communicate with the family of an eye donor in whatever language they are most comfortable using. The very nature of our work can bring us in contact with just about anyone, anywhere.” As an international eye bank, it’s even possible that a donated cornea could be transplanted anywhere in the world. Since its creation in 1982, RMLEB has placed corneas for transplant in over 30 different countries. 

Meeting Families Where They Are and in Their Own Language

So, how does an organization like this handle multiple languages? It gets expert help.

“Our telephone interpretation service offers us access to interpreters in over 200 languages in less than a minute,” the CPR manager said. When it comes to written communications, RMLEB uses a variety of services, depending on the context of what needs translated. 

“If we have a letter written by a transplant recipient in Japan to her donor’s family in Wyoming,” the CPR manager explained, “then we may use a generalized service with a quick turnaround time.” Yet, for technical documents meant for customs officials or that are full of ophthalmology terms, RMLEB turns to translation services that have experts in those subjects. Some services also have rigorous quality measures in place to ensure accuracy for regulated documents. 

Spanish Transplation Takes a Front-Seat

Yet, despite its ability to respond rapidly in just about any language, it was in 2019 that RMLEB managed to offer Spanish content on its website. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States and the change was a long time in coming.

The CPR manager admits, “We have always had resources available for Spanish speakers. For example, we've had Spanish-speaking staff members. We have Spanish resource materials for both the families of eye donors and transplant recipients. We regularly translate letters between donor families and transplant recipients at no cost.” Yet, what RMLEB didn’t have was all of that in a place accessible without having to go through the public relations department. 

So, when the eye bank began redesigning its website in the fall of 2018, part of that design included Spanish language content. “We waited until we rebuilt the website so that we could think about the Spanish content in a thoughtful way, rather than just sticking it in where we could.” 

RMLEB's Cultural Sensitivity Enhances Their Mission 

“Our goal is to make sure that we are communicating effectively, compassionately, accurately, and with cultural sensitivity with all the people we rely on to fulfill our mission,” the CPR manager summarized the eye bank's overall mission and efforts to ensure access to multiple languages. That is true no matter where in the world they are or what language they speak. 

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