Model, actor, dancer and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco to visit campus Jan. 30

January 24, 2018 By Emily Hamer

While some see being deaf as an obstacle, Nyle DiMarco sees it as a strength that’s contributed to his growing fame as a model, actor and activist for the deaf community. He’s the winner of “America’s Next Top Model” Cycle 22, an actor in “Switched at Birth” and the winner of season 22 of “Dancing with the Stars.”

DiMarco will be coming to UW–Madison Jan. 30 to talk about his journey and being an activist for the deaf community. DiMarco will meet with deaf and hard of hearing students in the afternoon, then all of campus is invited to attend “An Evening with Nyle DiMarco” presented by the WUD Distinguished Lecture Series. The events are cosponsored by The McBurney Disability Resource Center, which works to ensure campus is inclusive and accommodating for students with disabilities.

Nyle DiMarco

Mari Magler, assistant dean and director of the McBurney Disability Resource Center, says the events will give students a window into the experiences of someone who lives in a world where they are a linguistic and cultural minority. Magler says cultural deafness is not an aspect of diversity that is often represented on campus.

On UW–Madison’s campus there are fewer than 50 deaf or hard of hearing students, Magler said. For these students, specifically, the events provide the opportunity to meet other deaf students and people who may have similar experiences to themselves. UW–Madison’s deaf students also rarely have exposure to deaf speakers or professionals.

“This is an opportunity for students to see a deaf role model who is a successful professional,” Magler says. “We hope for any students out there who have had messages of ‘you can’t’ that they will see clearly from Nyle that they can.”

On America’s Next Top Model, DiMarco saw his deafness as an advantage. He even told People TV that he has never wanted to hear.

“Being deaf has definitely been a strength for me in this competition [on America’s Next Top Model] just because American Sign Language requires a lot of facial expression and using your body and that’s what modeling requires also,” DiMarco said in an interview on ANTM.

Dancing with the Stars, however, was a new challenge for him. DiMarco was hesitant to join the show because he had never danced before and wasn’t sure if he could. But even with not knowing how to dance and not being able to hear the music, he rose to the top of the show and ended up winning the whole thing.

DiMarco says he wants to show that deaf people can do anything, whether that’s being a firefighter, police officer, brain surgeon, professor, software developer, or “an internationally recognized supermodel, actor, and dancing phenom.”

“I wanted to prove to the world that deaf people can dance,” DiMarco says in an interview with The Preachers. “It doesn’t matter if you can hear or not.”

“I wanted to prove to the world that deaf people can dance.”

Nyle DiMarco

DiMarco has been using his fame to be an advocate for the deaf community. He started The Nyle DiMarco Foundation with the goal of “changing deaf people’s lives.

There’s 70 million deaf people worldwide, but only 2 percent of them have access to education in sign language. DiMarco wants to make sure parents know the options available for their deaf children, and how important sign language is. If kids don’t learn a language between ages 0 to 5, their cognitive development is suppressed.

“We’re talking about millions of deaf people that don’t receive education in sign language and that’s language deprivation,” DiMarco says.

The Nyle DiMarco Foundation is currently working to inform parents and provide resources to parents so they can support their deaf children. DiMarco says the main reason for his success today is because he had immediate access to sign language as a child.

In addition to trying to make changes for deaf families, DiMarco has also been a spokesperson for Deaf actors. In interviews, YouTube videos and on social media, DiMarco has explained the importance of having deaf actors in deaf roles. Most of the time deaf roles are taken by hearing actors, who often misrepresent American Sign Language.

“99.9 percent of the time deaf people see ASL on [the] big screen, we always see all the mistakes and ultimately, we are not represented well,” DiMarco says. “That causes damage.”

DiMarco says there are tons of talented deaf actors who would be able to fulfill deaf roles.

In fact, people in the deaf community have a wide range of talents, which is something DiMarco is trying to raise awareness of. He says many people don’t realize the deaf community is incredibly talented.

DiMarco hopes to use his foundation to make sure all deaf people can achieve their dreams, just like he’s doing.

“I don’t want to live my life with ifs,” DiMarco says.