Talking With Her Hands–Really, Really Fast

College of Southern Maryland Service and Volunteerism Coordinator Heather Zeolla uses American Sign Language to interpret the National Anthem during the May 2012 Honors Convocation on the La Plata Campus.

CSM Staffer Discusses ADA Month, Personal Commitment to Interpreting for Deaf

“National Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Month is a wonderful time to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made in ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities,” said College of Southern Maryland Service and Volunteerism Coordinator Heather Zeolla who teaches American Sign Language at CSM. “Often times it is forgotten that people with disabilities are people first and that no matter what the disability, there is access to support services to ensure they can lead positive and productive lives just like everyone else.”

Zeolla became interested in sign language when she was a young girl. “My grandfather was legally blind and deaf, but never used sign language. I learned a lot about hearing aids and how people with hearing loss cope in different ways. Growing up, I would find myself watching interpreters at different events and be completely fascinated by the language. I worked at a camp that served children who were deaf and enjoyed it so much I decided to pursue learning the language,” Zeolla said. She learned sign language through the Deaf Studies Program at Towson University and she has been working with people who are deaf ever since.

Zeolla began the most challenging aspect of sign language a year ago—signing in front of an audience, known as interpreting.

“Interpreting is very different from sign language itself—the skills needed for interpreting are much more advanced and require a lot of practice. I started with small meetings and classes and have worked up to larger presentations and events.” In May 2012 during CSM’s Honors Convocation, Zeolla stood at the edge of the stage and used American Sign Language to announce award recipients and relay speaker comments to deaf attendees. “I am honored to have opportunities to help others,” said Zeolla.

            “Since learning the language, I have made many friends who are deaf. I also sit on the board for the Maryland School for the Deaf and am glad to be able to help support many members of the deaf community,” Zeolla said.

             This fall, Zeolla will teach American Sign Language I through CSM’s non-credit Continuing Education offerings Oct. 23 through Nov. 15 on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For information, visit




American Sign Language I. 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, Oct. 23 to Nov. 15. College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus, Francis P. Chiaramonte, MD Center for Science and Technology, Room ST-109, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. Designed specifically for adults and families, American Sign Language I will lead students through the alphabet, simple ASL phrases and vocabulary of ASL as well as deaf culture. $129. Course no. PEP-8480-103847. Register online at