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October 3, 2002

Childhood fascination became vocation for Gee

From: Columbus This Week Newspapers, OH
Oct. 3, 2002

ThisWeek Staff Writer

Intrigued by sign language as a child, a West Side woman now employs her expertise to help the hearing impaired perform daily tasks.

Growing up on the South Side of Columbus, Michana Gee had her first experiences with the deaf and hard of hearing through interactions with the parents of a neighborhood boy. Fascinated by the way in which the boy's parents used hand gestures to communicate, she eventually studied and learned sign language herself.

Today, Gee uses her knowledge of sign language and understanding of the difficulties that confront the hearing impaired to help remove barriers and bridge the communication gap. For the past two years, she has operated the Reliable Interpreting Agency Inc., which provides interpreting services for the deaf, hard of hearing and blind throughout Ohio and beyond.

"Ever since I grew up with a boy whose parents were deaf, I have always had an interest in sign language," Gee said. "Now, I have a degree in sign language, interpreting and transliterating, which is the English word order using American sign language signs."

According to Gee, the Reliable Interpreting Agency provides sign language services in all situations where communication barriers may occur between hearing and deaf individuals. She continues efforts to spread the word about the fledgling company, but said it has grown to the point where she has been called upon to travel throughout Ohio and states such as Indiana and Virginia in order to help clients.

In particular, Gee has served as a liaison between doctors and patients. She has worked for patients of numerous family doctors throughout the state, as well as those receiving treatment at local hospitals such as Riverside, Grant and Doctor's West.

"I had to interpret the birth of a baby the other day," she said. "That was one of the best things I've done yet."

Under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act, agencies and businesses are required to provide communication services to hearing impaired individuals. Because of the requirements, Erika Shell Castro, coordinator of interpretive services for Riverside and Grant hospitals, said Gee has filled an important void, both for the hospital and its patients.

"She basically acts as a communication tool between the patients and the physician teams, as well as the patients' families," Castro said.

"Michana is a very valuable asset. You can't provide the care unless you can communicate with the patients and their families."

Castro said Gee is well liked by patients and staff at Riverside and Grant.

"I get many positive remarks from patients about how helpful Michana is," she said. "We're very pleased to work with her. She keeps that appropriate distance, but at the same time, she's very compassionate and conscientious."

Although much of her work has focused on assistance within the medical arena, Gee has served hearing impaired individuals in a variety of endeavors. They have included interpreting for deaf athletes, students, job applicants and consumers.

Through her work, Gee has found herself taking on the role of advocate for the rights of the physically handicapped. She said this evolution took place after observing reluctance from some to adhere to federal laws and provide communication services for those with hearing difficulties.

"I've found myself advocating more than I ever thought I would for rights and the culture of the deaf and hard of hearing," Gee said. "It wasn't one of my goals, but I seem to be doing more and more of it."

While Gee attempts to cover all assistance assignments personally, a growing demand for such services has forced her to contract some work. As her company grows, she hopes to expand her services to areas such as sign language education, and she currently is developing a Web site to reach a greater number of those in need.

© 2002 Columbus This Week