App helps Phila. immigrants navigate services

Posted: July 14, 2013

The Philly311 Mobile App for smartphones has released new features to help immigrants and residents who speak English as a second language navigate city services, city officials announced Friday.

Information about translation programs to help users communicate with city services and a list of community resources are two new features. The app can be translated into 16 languages, including Spanish, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese.

Click on the globe icon labeled "Language Assistance" in the Philly311 app to explore resources for other language speakers.

The upgrade, which went live Tuesday, was created to help residents who might be too intimidated by language barriers to call the city and report a graffitied wall or vacant house. Users can file a request with the click of a button.

"We want to make sure we're embracing the community . . . and making sure all Philadelphians feel comfortable interacting with the city government," said Tim Wisniewski, Philadelphia director of civic technology, who helped develop the app and its new features.

Roughly one in nine Philadelphians was born in another country, and about 125,000 households do not speak English as their primary language, said Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, director of outreach and program evaluation at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

Developers hope tapping the popularity of smartphones among immigrants - a Pennsylvania Welcoming Center study released last year found 68 percent of immigrants surveyed owned smartphones - and the popularity of the app to increase civic engagement. More than 15,000 people have sent service requests through the app since it was released September 2012, Wisniewski said.


Contact Summer Ballentine at 215-854-2771 or SBallentine@philly.com. Follow her on Twitter @esballentine.

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