KODIAK, Alaska (AP) — Kodiak College is making its campus more inclusive by installing multilingual signs on its buildings.
The effort is part of the $1.4 million Alutiiq Studies and Student Support Project, which required the college to add signs in Alutiiq.
“There was interest in making the whole campus more culturally friendly to Native students, but also to students and community members who speak other languages and are from other cultures,” said April Laktonen Counceller, assistant professor of Alutiiq studies. “We figured since we’re making all these signs, maybe we should include the other most commonly spoken languages in Kodiak.”
The effort includes around 90 new signs labeled in English, Spanish, Alutiiq, Filipino and Russian. Braille is also included.
When Kodiak College staff was doing research to see how other colleges created multilingual signs, they were only able to find a couple of colleges in Canada that were utilizing three languages, but couldn’t find any in North America using five.
“I don’t think people realize how rare it is to have this many languages depicted,” Counceller said.
The project took almost a year to complete because the staff had to find people who could help do the translations and had to find a sign company willing to do the custom work.
“We wanted to make sure we got input from lots of native speakers so we honored their thoughts and feelings,” college director Barbara Bolson said.
During the translation process, staff learned that there weren’t Alutiiq translations for words like copy room, financial aid or assistant director.
“There were a lot of words, especially for Alutiiq, that didn’t exist,” Counceller said. “We had to bring the list of words to the new words council.”
Counceller developed suggestions for the words that didn’t have translations, and took them before the council. The council then approved some suggestions and changed others to make the new words in Alutiiq.
They also had a special translator come in to work on the Filipino language translation to incorporate diverse Filipino translations, not just Tagalog.
The other difficult part of the project was finding a company to do the work.
The sign project went up for bid and nobody locally bid on the project. Nationally a few companies were initially interested, but only Erie Custom Signs in Saginaw, Mich. followed through after learning the complexity of the project.
“A lot of places have pre-made women’s restroom signs, but don’t have the power to take a spreadsheet and incorporate all the information,” said data collection and distance learning technician John Beale.
The project required a lot of design time. Each word used a different number of characters depending on the language, and the designer had to balance all six words onto one sign without changing the physical size of the sign. All letters on the sign also had to be ADA compliant.
“Balancing out text on the signs was difficult, and so was keeping the sign size the same with long text,” Beale said.
Aside from satisfying grant requirements, the college hopes the signs will make the college more accessible for other students learning English.
“We believe it helps the accessibility for foreign language students who come here,” Beale said. “Having Alutiiq room translations imprints the Alutiiq language on the college.”
The college is in the second-year of the grant, and has additional building changes in the works. They have already added an Alutiiq studies room, and the next phase is to renovate one of the main rooms in the Benny Benson building to make it more welcoming for community events and elders.
Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com