Liz Leitzel to make career from sign language skills


When new Marco Islander Liz Leitzel speaks her favorite language besides English and Spanish, she doesn’t utter a word.

She “signs” in silence. But it’s animated silence nevertheless.

Signing is the verb for using sign language. It’s an art Leitzel is on her way to mastering after first being inspired when a deaf member of her small Pennsylvania church suggested forming a choir that would occasionally sign to – instead of sing – hymns. The music and vocals would play in the background.

“I decided to join because it looked like fun. I picked it up quick. We practiced the words to the hymns, and once a month on Sunday, we would sign them during the church services,” Leitzel said. “Everyone loved it,”

Now – after the move to Marco mom Maddie and dad Duane - Leitzel, 20, plans to build on a couple of semesters she recently completed at a Pennsylvania community college. Her next step is to attend Florida Gulf Coast University for the next five or so years to attain a full degree.

The employment opportunities are widely varied, she said, and she would be able to do anything from interpreting in doctor’s rooms, for example, to standing on stage at a rock concert and signing for deaf fans.

“That’s when you get your name out there, and are certified,” Leitzel said.

Mom Maddie said all the hard work and years of study could be deservedly lucrative.

“Interpreters can get up to $200 an hour,” she said.

Leitzel already has had a couple of “Marco moments” relating to her calling.

In a local supermarket where she works as a cashier to help finance her studies, she noticed a hearing couple signing with their 21-year-old son, so she asked them (verbally) whether she could sign him.

They agreed, and what followed might not have seemed significant to other people in the line, but the simple communication (about him having a rewards card, and showing his driver’s license to buy some beers) was indeed special, Leitzel said.

Another time, Snook Inn solo singer Duncan Wheeler suggested she come up and sing.

“I told him I couldn’t sing, but that I could sign,” Leitzel said, “so I came back the week after and signed to the Zac Brown Band’s “Fried Chicken.” (See that performance online at

Leitzel speaks American Sign Language (ASL), and points out that there is no universal sign language. In fact, she said, ASL is closer to Japanese sign language than any other version. There are, however, some common signs, she said. Plus, she said, accompanying facial expressions are vital to convey emotions.

Mom Maddie is fully behind her daughter’s chosen direction, not least because as a doctor’s nanny in Pennsylvania she used basic sign language to communicate with the family’s children. In addition, her brother Jimmy – a Marco Islander – is deaf, and signs as well as being an accomplished lip reader.

Given the inter-connection, it’s hardly surprising that mom and daughter sometimes communicate in sign language without even realizing it.

· A couple of published statistics pertaining to hearing loss or deafness in the United States: About 2-3 of every 1,000 children are born with a “detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears; more than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and about 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabled hearing loss. The rates increases to 8.5 percent for adults 55-64, 25 percent for 65-to-74 and 50 percent for those older than 70.

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