A sharp jawline and smooth dance moves certainly didn’t hurt his chances on “America’s Next Top Model” or “Dancing with the Stars,” but Nyle DiMarco credits his success to a foundation of confidence and pride built from the day he was born. DiMarco represents a family with over 25 deaf members, including his grandparents, mother and brothers, all of whom he grew up with under one roof. For a deaf child, this immediate exposure to American Sign Language and the deaf community was critical in cementing a sense of pride in deafness, as well as a strong ability to communicate.
“Like a hearing child with hearing parents,” DiMarco says. “There are no barriers in language, communication and love.”
This vast majority of deaf children won’t have DiMarco’s early exposure to American Sign Language. An astounding 75 percent of parents do not use sign language to communicate with their deaf child, cutting off a potentially critical channel for expression.
A platform for good
It was this knowledge that lead the young activist to found the Nyle DiMarco Foundation, which he counts as his proudest accomplishment to date. The foundation aims to strengthen and support organizations and individuals fighting for the rights and visibility of the deaf community. It is currently focused on improving access to early educational resources for deaf children and their parents.
“There is nothing better than making and seeing actual changes in millions of deaf lives,” DiMarco shares. “It is rewarding and pushes me to keep doing more.”
In advocacy, he took a cue from his family. Growing up he recalls how his mother worked exhaustively to ensure that her sons would have a quality education, and though he admits that effort embarrassed him at the time, it ultimately reframed the way he viewed his sudden celebrity and the potentially valuable platform that accompanied it.
Making a difference
“Advocating for the deaf community started as a way to inform and educate others about my general experiences in life,” he says. “I think people watching on TV were surprised that I could win ‘America’s Next Top Model’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Sure, there were challenges, but at the end of the day I’m a regular person — I only communicate in a different language. After those shows, I realized that I had a growing platform and felt a sense of responsibility to do more and speak out. Since then, I haven’t stopped.”
DiMarco, who was on track to become a math teacher when he was scouted for “Top Model” season 22, hasn’t slowed down in his career ambitions either. Now, in addition to modeling, he’s also acting and recently racked up his first credit as a Broadway producer for “Children of a Lesser God,” a play centered on the relationship between a hearing man and deaf woman.
The triple-threat talent admits his ascension to fame took some getting used to, especially since it happened in one chaotic year.
“I had a lot to figure out; my career, what I was passionate about, and what I could do to spotlight my deaf community,” he says. But in the end, he’s proud of his successes, excited for what lies ahead and glad to share his unique experience with the world.
“There is nothing more powerful than being who you are and embracing your differences,” DiMarco shares. “You glow this way, and you will soar higher for being exactly who you are.”
Emily Gawlak, [email protected]