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Modesto launches real-time interpretation software for City Council meetings

Wordly is an AI-powered translation software that provides up to 20 different language interpretations via Zoom.
Credit: KXTV
City of Modesto sign

MODESTO, Calif. — The city of Modesto announced Tuesday the official launch of a new language access service now available to residents to engage in city council meetings –and it is the first in the state in California to do so.

Wordly, an AI-powered interpretation software that provides real-time translated captioning to meeting participants, will allow members of the community who don't speak English a chance to listen and participate in city council meetings over Zoom.

The innovative software interprets over 30 different languages and is designed to promote transparency and engagement between city management and residents, according to the city of Modesto.

“We have a significant portion of our community that speaks Spanish, and then there's others that speak many other languages,” Modesto Deputy City Manager Scotty Douglass said. “This is a service that allows them to see it in other languages as the meetings are live so that different people can participate.”

After hearing concerns from the diverse community of Modesto, city council began quickly searching for solutions.

About 40% of Modesto's population is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many in that population speak Spanish.

“Some of the solutions in the beginning was providing more people available at the Council meetings that spoke other languages like Spanish,” Douglass said. “But all the while we were searching for a more consistent solution that was technology based.” 

The city spent the last three months testing and preparing the language access service for public use.

“A lot of other cities are using people to do that service and most of them are doing that on a request basis,” Douglass said. “We wanted to be able to make this a consistent thing that we could do for our community.”

Using AI-powered technology, Worldly can be accessed through a QR code that will give a participant the ability to choose a language to be interpreted during the Zoom session.

“It's a cloud-based service we run through Zoom and it connects to this third-party service,” Douglass said. “It essentially pushes the audio to this other service, and they take that audio that's in English in this case and then it provides the option for translation.” 

According to Douglass, Wordly is typically used by larger government organizations and has now implemented a city council meeting option likely due to it's newest partnership with the city of Modesto.

The service also allows members of the community to join the city council meeting in person, while using the software through Zoom as a real-time translator.

“You could know the meetings going on and just scan the QR code or visit the website," Douglass said. “You don't have to have the video portion of it in order to view; it's just a service that's running within a browser.” 

Beyond being the first city in California to implement this innovative language access service to its residents, it is also one of the few cities that offers a hybrid city council meeting option.

“The hybrid meeting, you know, is here to stay,” Douglass said. “Once you start providing that service, I mean, people come to rely on and expect that level of engagement.” 

Douglass said he hopes other cities will follow suit as it can be beneficial to every community.

“We feel confident we are the trail blazers in this state,” Modesto Community & Media Relations Officer Diana Ruiz said.

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