Deaf activist and model Nyle DiMarco lectures in the University Theatre, Sept. 12.

Deaf activist and model Nyle DiMarco lectures in the University Theatre, Sept. 12. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

While some may believe that deafness is a disability, Nyle DiMarco doesn’t view it that way.

“I never wished I could hear, I’ve never even thought about it — I was born this way, and I don’t know any different,” DiMarco, Deaf activist and winner of “Dancing with the Stars” and “America’s Next Top Model,” said.  “If I always wished I could hear, my life would be very different. I would have a very pessimistic viewpoint, because I would always have that negative thought about my experiences.”

Speaking as a part of the Academic Lecture Series, Sept. 12, DiMarco said he realized early on that his deafness was a gain, not a loss.

“I realized that I was able to show a different perspective, and that was my asset,” he said. “I was able to show people what it was like to not hear.”

DiMarco, who is fourth-generation Deaf, said that his situation is unique among deaf individuals. Most deaf people don’t have full access to language at birth, as only 10 percent of deaf people are born to deaf parents.

“There are 70 million deaf people worldwide, and only 2 percent of them have access to education in sign language,” he said. “There are millions of children out there who don’t have language. They can’t express themselves, and we need to change that.”

After his first episode of “America’s Next Top Model” aired, he began receiving thousands of emails from hearing parents of deaf children asking for help. DiMarco said he quickly felt overwhelmed by the requests for resources and advice.

“I didn’t know how I was supposed to answer them, I am just one person,” he said. “I was so stressed and burdened by this. I tried my best, but I didn’t know what to do. I talked to several of my friends, and they told me to establish a foundation, and to use my platform to help parents with resources, and at the same time raise awareness.”

The Nyle DiMarco Foundation’s goal is to give language access to all deaf children before the age of five, in whatever form that may take. He said that the main goal right now is to pass legislation in each state ensuring early language access. Three states have already adopted this policy.

“It’s a very sad statistic, but over 75 percent of parents don’t sign to their deaf children. So, if you think about it, they don’t know how to express themselves, they don’t know how to navigate life on their own,” he said. “My foundation’s goal is to change that.”

While DiMarco’s success as a model and actor has given him a platform to create change, he said that his career aspirations are more focused on activism.

“I didn’t just want to look pretty, I wanted to be able to give back to my community,” he said. “I am teaching hearing people about sign language and deaf culture. I’m teaching them about language deprivation. That’s what is important.”

DiMarco also offered some advice to the Deaf students in the audience on what to do when they felt like giving up.

“There are so many deaf children out there who look up to you, and need your help as a role model. Embrace yourself, embrace your differences. This is how you can actually thrive in your life — through your differences.”

Stephanie DeMeyer, UP contributor


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