HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — In the middle of the food court at Regency Square Mall, a group is making a powerful statement without saying one word out loud.
“Well, what it does is allow people to know that deaf people are people and that we like to get together like anybody else,” Danny White signs.
White and interpreter Bruce Sofinski are both taking part in what is known as a silent lunch. The deaf and hearing communities combine in this setting and communicate with American Sign Language, laughter and smiles.
“Deaf people can do it, can do anything. We are the same as people who can hear just that we can’t hear,” signs Sylvia Crespo, a mother of three boys who has lived in this area for three years.
Silent lunch participants sign about their jobs, families and everything else going on in their lives.
About 12,000 people in the Richmond region are deaf or hard of hearing. The population is composed of men, women and children of all races and ages.
“Oh yeah, I really like the diversity and love all of them,” signs Pinky Patel, a regular at these lunches and editor of the Richmond Deaf Club’s newsletter.
Sofinski started the lunches in 1989 to improve his own signing. They have now grown to include his students at Reynolds Community College.
“You have a friend who just says, ‘Oh you’re learning sign language, that sounds interesting,'” explains Matt Reynolds, who has studied ASL for a few years. “You want to to try to invite them to events so they can see the similarities in the communities.”
Everyone is invited to participate in a silent lunch, whether they have been using ASL for decades or are interested in learning. The lunches are held every Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Regency Square Mall, located at at 1420 N. Parham Road in Henrico. Silent dinners also rotate at locations throughout the area. Follow this link for the schedule.