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DawnSignPress interviews ASL Teacher Lisa Hermatz

  • 01 August 2019

1. How did you first become interested in teaching American Sign Language?

At first, it was mostly a social habit that I had. When I saw hearing people around (in a signing community), looking lost, I would assist them with a few signs. Later, when I was working for Deaf West Theatre, we would have hearing actors who wanted to learn a few signs., I remember always enjoying assisting them. Eventually, TRIPOD, a privately funded school, which taught DHH and KODA children, hired me as one of their ASL instructors for their Family Sign program. (ASL instructors would go into the homes of these deaf children and teach their parents and families ASL [for one year], at no cost to the family.) I, at some point, became the coordinator of the program and ran it for ten years. While doing that, I found the job of a lifetime, teaching ASL at Pierce College. I am still there today. It’s been nearly 20 years! I also teach at Glendale Community College, and this May was my 15th anniversary with them.

2. Who along your path was really instrumental in your becoming an ASL teacher?

This is a tough question. I cannot name one person who was instrumental in my becoming an ASL teacher. I think it sort of “fell into my lap” and I “fell in love with it.” But, if I had to name the one person who believed in me in such a way (at the beginning) that has driven me to where I am today, I would have to say the lucky winner is Cindy Herbst. (She was the Modern Language Arts Chair at Pierce and was the one who hired me.) She is the one who kept the fire inside of me burning. Now, I have many people who continue to light this flame and are pushing me to obtain my Master’s in ASL Teaching. It would be unfair of me to name them for fear of missing the many others who are also my cheerleaders.

3. What are some of the most rewarding experiences in teaching ASL?

One of my happiest moments is when some of my budding ASL students return to visit me as professional ASL interpreters. I am always in awe at how they have taken the “seeds” from ASL 101 and turned them into full blooms on their own as they go through all other ASL classes. Other times, I have deaf students in my class who are oblivious to their identities and to ASL and the incredible community that comes with it. Witnessing these young Deaf individuals transform into proud, strong Deaf members of our community always touches me very deeply. I am always glad I can be of some kind of influence, for I wish I were given that opportunity when I was much younger. Role models are very important for these Deaf children growing up in families that may lack the resources in to raise successful deaf children. Other rewarding experiences are when I see growth in all of my students from the first day of level one until the end of level two. Many of them come out of their shells and open up with amazing abilities to express this beautiful language, not only using their hands, but with their faces and entire beings.

4. Do you think the prevalence of ASL interpreters at public events, like concerts, or programs like Switched at Birth on television or feature films like Wonderstruck, help in bringing the Deaf and hearing community together and if so, why?

Yes, definitely. I remember when Switched at Birth (SAB) was airing; there was an astronomical surge in enrollment in ASL classes. I would have up to 25 people on my wait list. The show was probably the reason for the rise. The interest level still seems pretty high even today, after the hype of SAB had decreased.  There are other events, as mentioned in the question above, that are also reasons for the uptick in classroom size. I also believe that since ASL is recognized as a full-fledged language, and ASL courses are accepted for second language requirements, people do have that option and ASL does seem appealing. Is it easy? Not always! Some pick it up so very naturally and others struggle.  One thing I love to tell my students is they need not travel across the seas to practice ASL, because it is here all over America and Canada.  Why waste a 2-year language experience on a one- time overseas trip?

5. Who are your favorite heroes of the Deaf world and why do you consider them heroes?

At one time in my life, I would say Alice Cogswell, for she woke the need for Deaf Education in America.  To think of the life of language deprivation she must have experienced, being the reason Gallaudet and Clerc established one of the first Deaf schools in America, and to have died shortly after her father’s passing, at such a young age, she probably had NO idea the profound impact she (and the others) would make on the Deaf Community today and on future generations. If I had to name a more modern hero, I would say all the Deaf Education teachers who are campaigning to give Deaf children the BEST education today as well as provide them all language tools necessary for success. I feel their passion, and I praise their dedication to their missions and careers. It is not an easy job! Another incredible figure I adore is Bernard Bragg. As much richness as he brought into the deaf world, he was a believer in everyone, his humility was profound.

6. You are one of the founders of KODAWest (Kids of Deaf Adults), and can you tell us more about it? What inspired you to be one of the founders?

KODAWest is one of the biggest (and proudest) accomplishments I have ever undertaken. Before I had children, I became friends with many CODA interpreters. Listening to their stories made me feel very connected to them because of my own upbringing.  I was raised in a mainstream program (as were my two sisters), where I felt like I never fit in. So, I had a strong affinity with the CODAs. When my nieces were born, I watched how their dual identities shaped them, and I taught them the term “KODA” so they could have some understanding of their little struggles. When I had my own daughters, I noticed it even more. I knew that sooner than later, I would need to immerse them in a community where they would feel they belonged and were embraced. We tried getting them into the KODA camp on the east coast for a few years to no avail. Undeterred, I knew something had to be done. After some searching, we realized there was no support system for KODAs on the West Coast. We knew there had to be a KODA camp and a year-round support system for these families. We established KODAWest 2005, and it was purely blood, sweat and tears and from the center of our hearts that we were able to provide this for our children and for generations thereafter and even for those from across the seas. We have had lots of community support as well. This is type of service is GREATLY needed all over the USA, even the world, for more than 90% of the deaf community have hearing children. For more information on KODAWest, check us out at

7. You are very involved with the Deaf community such as being on the national board of Deaf Women United, and ASLTA planning committee. Is that your way of giving back to the community?

You could say it was a way of giving back to the community. I always try to be as involved as much as I am able. When I joined the board of Deaf Women United, it was only because someone nominated me.  Never did I realize that would change my world. I have gained not just lifelong friends from serving with some wonderful women, but I have gained so much awareness ranging from social justice to transformative justice to pro-tactile awareness. I have been so enriched, I am forever grateful for that nomination, which was made by DSP’s own Tina Jo! As for being a part of the ASLTA 2019 Conference Committee, I have always had a strong belief that if you are passionate about your career, then you should be as involved in all aspects of it as possible. Again, being a part of the ASLTA-LA, ASLTA-SoCal, the national level ASLTA, and the committee has given me so much. I am currently in school full-time too, aiming to get my Master’s in ASL Teaching. What I have attained thus far is indescribable. I am very blessed to be on this journey, and to be with amazing colleagues along the way.

8. What DawnSignPress products do you use, and which ones do you recommend for others to use?

I use all of their Signing Naturally curriculums, Units 1-6, 7-12, Levels 2 and 3. I have used their Fingerspelling videos. I was one of the sign language models in their ASL at Work curriculum. Movers & Shakers is another great product I have! The students love playing with the ASL Handshape Games cards!  I also have their Once Upon a Sign series of children’s stories told in ASL. That series was one of my most enjoyable and gratifying opportunities I worked with the actors (in this series) as their ASL master. I will forever be grateful to DawnSignPress for all of the opportunities they have given me. I hope to be fortunate enough to work with them again one day. Long live DSP!!