n=77 participants

Members of every group REJOICE spoke with expressed an interest in trustworthy, accessible, timely, detailed information relevant to their community during the pandemic. Speakers of languages other than English, including American Sign Language (ASL), tended to share more concerns and frustrations about information access. They also tended to report finding a narrower range of sources of information accessible, effective and trustworthy (see the table, below).

Where? Members of the diverse communities with whom we spoke expressed diverse preferences for the sources of their information, but those trusted sources had common threads: they were seen as accountable, responsive, often based in relationship with the individual of their community, and importantly, had locally relevant information.

“I rely a lot on that newscast [the governor’s press briefing] because it’s coming from where the buck stops here kind of thing for the state.”

– Mobile home resident

Trusted information sources shared by REJOICE focus group participants, Summer/Fall 2020

Deaf Elderly/
Mobile home residentsSomali BantuTBI/ Chronic illness
Trusted sources
FacebookyesYESYESyesyesAALV, Migrant Justice, Vermont Center for Independent Living, Open Door Clinic
WhatsAppyesyesYESYESAALV, community audio groups, international calls, Messages
Governmentif ASL usedYESYESYESVT Dep’t of Health (VDH); Governor’s press briefing
VT Digger, VDH site; Zoom mtgs.
Newspapers (print & online)YesYESYesNYT, Wash. Post, Rutland Herald
Television YesYesYESCh. 3, 5, CNN, Fox, Univision
Telephone/mailYesOpen Door Clinic, Newport Wireless Mesh

How? For certain communities, the medium was essential. With internet access, for example, WhatsApp enabled local and international personal calling even when people couldn’t afford minutes on their phones. For other communities, internet access offered a literal lifeline.

[Deaf] people who live in the rural area, they’re still using T.T.Y. and outmoded technology. But they have no choice because they don’t have high-speed enough Internet [for ASL to transmit], even if they could afford it. They have to use a T.T.Y. So everything is just so much slower and less accessible, but they have no other option. I don’t… I haven’t had my T.T.Y. since 05, but we’re still forced to use it.

– Deaf participant 

Everyone’s quiet now just imagining how little life is going on. Because if you didn’t have that [internet] access, you know, just think about, how would we do that, you know, with Covid on, with Covid off, what we’re doing? Everybody’s just picturing that at this point.”

– ASL Interpreter

Finding: Libraries and other community drop-in facilities became less accessible or inaccessible in some communities during the pandemic, making it challenging for rural, low-income, and elder Vermonters to access information and the internet. As one participant said, “If you don’t have internet access, you can’t access government.”  Public participation in local and state government has been severely hampered for those who cannot obtain vital government information digitally. This is exacerbated especially for elders with language barriers, with whom REJOICE spent 30-60 minutes before call start times, with interpreter support, helping them to access focus groups by telephone or digitally, so they could participate.

Suggestion:  Until broadband internet is a public utility available to all Vermonters, everyone should be able to access a safe, sanitized communication portal for government information and services within 25 miles of their home. This portal should contain computer and internet access, printed literature in multiple languages, and the ability to schedule time with a government navigator/interpreter. 

  • Local leaders such as library and organizational staff should design and facilitate access to centers, as they understand the communication styles and needs of their community.
  • Some community and drop-in centers, as well as local businesses, have filled the gap with free internet access and relevant resources and information. There should be grants available to support their services and cleaning costs.

Finding: Certain widely used communication platforms and channels require smartphones, laptops, and other devices, or a certain internet speed or bandwidth, that may be out of reach for economically distressed, geographically isolated, or LEP households. Furthermore, even those who can access the full range of digital tools turn to certain portals and groups they trust for information, and vetted government information specific to their locale is not often found in these places.

if I’m looking for news in Spanish, that news is usually from another state… where I don’t live. From other parts of the world, and of course they’re effective, of course they’re telling us about México, about our familias, about the case load in México, but what I’m interested in is right here and right now, where I live in _______, what’s happening here, in my state… where I live with my family. And I didn’t have access to any information. I wanted somebody to sit down with me and answer all the questions I had. 


REJOICE’s conversations showed strong and distinct preferences for both the source and medium of information during the pandemic.

  • WhatsApp is very popular among people with international relationships to family and friends. It has a “broadcast” platform that allows a user to access informational updates. It is easy to translate into other languages. Most New Americans REJOICE spoke with were part of shared WhatsApp groups within their communities. This was especially true for women who spent more time at home. It has also become popular with seniors as an alternative platform for “face time” with loved ones. The State of Vermont and certain municipalities should develop and maintain broadcast groups in the most commonly spoken languages.
  • Spanish-speaking farmworkers use Facebook in addition to WhatsApp, often following trusted pages like Migrant Justice. They also trust information from the Open Door Clinic (Addison County) and Bridges to Health (Northern tier counties). Government and NGO actors should build a checklist of trusted platforms and partners to share critical, locally-specific information in different communities and keep it up to date. REJOICE can seed that list.

**Suggestion: Build and deploy communication platforms and channels prior to an emergency that meet a range of needs. Utilize WhatsApp, affinity-based social media groups, text alert programs, and in-person literature distribution and communication when possible.

Summary compiled by:
Dr. Susannah McCandless,
Center for Whole Communities
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