Deaf Model Creates Non-Profit For International Deaf Community

Nyle DiMarco discusses his activism in the deaf community Oct. 16 during his lecture.

A deaf actor, model and activist shared about his time on television and passion for education for the deaf community Wednesday at Hillside Auditorium.

Nyle DiMarco was born deaf to a multigenerational deaf family, nearly all of whom used American Sign Language, he said.

“I grew up embodying the deaf culture, DiMarco said through an interpreter, who spoke on his behalf as he signed in American Sign Language. “Through that, I’ve learned to cherish my identity, which has given me a different perspective on life.”

DiMarco has traveled to Europe, Asia and South America specifically looking at the deaf communities in each country, he said. DiMarco found that many deaf and hard of hearing people needed resources and opportunities.

DiMarco founded The Nyle DiMarco Foundation in 2016, which is a non-profit with the goal of providing accurate educational access for deaf people and hard of hearing people. 

There are 466 million people with disabled hearing loss across the world, according to the World Health Organization. 

DiMarco’s education began at a deaf school where he signed ASL better than his hearing teachers, he said. 

DiMarco attended a public school in 5th grade and hated it, he said. DiMarco was labelled as the deaf kid and was barred from participating in certain events due to communication problems, he said. Even learning became challenging.

“I would want to get involved in class but I couldn’t because there was a delay, right? I would talk to the interpreter, but it had to be a whole process,” DiMarco said. 

DiMarco came into the public spotlight when he won cycle 22 of "America's Next Top Model,” he said.

“America’s Next Top Model” contacted DiMarco through Instagram and asked him to try out for the show.

For the four months the show was filming, DiMarco was only able to sign 10% of the time, when his interpreter was present.

“Language is such a huge part of what it means to be human. And to sign is no different,” DiMarco said.

After winning “America’s Next Top Model,” DiMarco was asked to join the season 22 cast of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Margaret Murie, a freshman, was inspired to learn ASL after watching DiMarco dance on “Dancing with the Stars,” she said.

“He really showed me what it was like, as a hearing person, to go through what he goes through. I was inspired to get involved with his community,” Murie said. 

DiMarco won season 22 of “Dancing with the Stars,” becoming the first deaf winner in the history of the television show.

“I thought, ‘this is my opportunity to reframe the deaf community and deaf culture for the better, to put us in a more positive light,’” DiMarco said.

In the future, DiMarco plans to expand The Nyle DiMarco Foundation by giving deaf people access to education in rural and underdeveloped areas domestically and internationally.

Miranda Stith is a news editor for the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as a reporter from 2018-2019.

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