What's your favorite color?
Usually, I talk non-stop when I go to the mall, vocalizing the visions of potential new shoe purchases and piles of comfy sweaters dancing in my head.
But at the Walden Galleria mall this past Sunday, I was quiet. I was nervous and hyperaware of everyone around me, though I was not antisocial.
I spoke, but not with my voice.
I used my hands.
Sunday marked the kickoff event of Buffalo Deaf Awareness week, held in the courtyard near the Apple Store at the Walden Galleria. Deaf Adult Services of Buffalo and the Buffalo deaf community, including UB's American Sign Language (ASL) club, gathered to mark the beginning of a week-long celebration of deaf culture and community.
As I approached the group of deaf community members and watched young children signing at what seemed like lightning speed, I frantically recalled the limited amount of ASL words and phrases I have learned in my ASL 101 class this semester at UB.
I kept coming back to one question we had practiced over and over in class, a question I felt I could sign pretty well: What's your favorite color? I prayed I wouldn't need to resort to asking my new acquaintances whether they liked blue or purple.
Though I was terrified I wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation beyond spelling my name, I swallowed the ball of fear in my throat. I took a deep breath, walked up to the table and waved hello.
At first, I was embarrassed. I didn't know some of the signs to ask or how to answer basic questions, such as "How are you?" I felt like I kept injecting awkward pauses into the conversation. But every person I introduced myself to was very understanding. They were welcoming and accommodating and slowed down and repeated themselves when I signed that I didn't understand or didn't catch what they had signed.
Three fellow ASL students and I participated in a mini sign language lesson at the event along with other community members. Our two instructors, Evy and Philip, seemed impressed with how much we already knew. In the session, we were able to introduce ourselves, sign numbers and colors and learn distinctions like teacher versus student and man versus woman.
I had never interacted with any members of the deaf community before, except for my professor. While it was intimidating, it was also humbling that community members with such advanced skills were more than willing to interact with me, given my limited sign language skills. I now understand that interacting with the deaf community not only allows you to practice signing skills but also helps to build your confidence.
The International Week of the Deaf is held the last full week of September, according to the World Federation of the Deaf. Its website notes that this year's theme was "Equality for the Deaf."
WKBW News 7 covered Sunday's event, where Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, in addition to other elected officials, was in attendance. My parents called me Sunday night to say they had seen me signing at the event on the evening news.
Though my mall trip that day was daunting and a little stressful, I was proud of the outcome. I had been able to carry on a conversation on my first venture outside of the walls of Baldy 117. And I didn't even need to ask, "What's your favorite color?"