Nyle DiMarco never once wished he could hear.
Ever since 2014, DiMarco has been active in the public sphere and is best known for being the first deaf winner of two famous competitive reality shows: “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
But instead of his good looks and talent in modeling and dancing, DiMarco prefers to be recognized by his more important role as a Deaf activist.
DiMarco’s visit to UR this Saturday brought members of the Deaf Community around the Rochester region together. For a city with one of the largest Deaf communities in the nation, his speech was momentous.
DiMarco presented himself as a confident ambassador for Deaf people. Through an interpreter and several ASL signers, he shared his experiences, struggles, and ambitions.
“I embody my Deaf identity, I cherish who I am, I cherish my culture, and my language[s], American Sign Language and English, making me bilingual,” DiMarco explained, translated by an interpreter.
By comparing his experience to the rest of the Deaf Community, DiMarco highlighted his good fortune of being born into a Deaf family, which allowed him to receive proficient education in signing. His first encounter of disparity within the deaf/hard-of-hearing population was when he attended the Maryland School for the Deaf. He was shocked to find out that not all students had the same ability to sign as he could. He joked that at the age of seven, he was able to sign more fluidly than his teachers.
Furthering his experience with disparity, DiMarco described his travels around the world, which allowed him to meet more Deaf people. According to DiMarco, those he met were not as privileged as him. Dimarco said that while “there [are] 70 million deaf people in the world who [use] some kind of sign language, only two percent of them have access to education and a formal sign language.”
“I used to think every other deaf person in the world was just like me, but now I realize I’m incredibly privileged,” DiMarco confessed.
His discovery led him to reconsider his career path — he no longer wanted to teach math, but instead wanted to work in admissions for his alma mater, Gallaudet University, to “recruit students from all over the world, inside and outside of the U.S.” DiMarco’s determination was to “bring [deaf people] from the middle of nowhere […], bring them here, help them find their identity, find their home, their language, and their community.”
In that same time, DiMarco said he was invited to be a part of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Switched at Birth.” While he was successful in both shows, DiMarco admitted that he was isolated by the other participants during the production of “ANTM.” In one incident, his only form of communication, a special phone, was taken by another contestant to take selfies. Instead of creating drama, DiMarco focused on the competition and being optimistic.
DiMarco’s stories of his experience depict the ideology of embracing and loving one’s identity — he is a leader that encourages the Deaf Community to thrive. From his initial goal of teaching and recruiting Deaf students to educating the world about the Deaf Community, he said, his commitment to education has been unwavering.