British Deaf News profiles the man of the moment, Nyle DiMarco, an icon and role model to a whole generation of Deaf people after winning not one but two top rated US shows. He has become an international star in less than a year after winning the final series of The CW Network show America’s Next Top Model late last year and adding to that recently by capturing the top prize in the ABC television dance competition Dancing with the Stars, with professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd. A first Deaf winner of both shows.
Twenty-seven-year-old Nyle DiMarco was born Nyle Thompson into a large multigenerational Deaf family in Queens, New York on May 8, 1989. More than 25 people in Nyle’s family are deaf – including his twin brother Nico, older brother Neal Jr, his parents, four grandparents and eight great-grandparents.
He was raised by his mother Donna in Frederick, Maryland, and took her maiden name, DiMarco, after she separated from his father in 2000. He attended the Maryland School for the Deaf before graduating from Gallaudet University in Washington DC, the only liberal arts University in the world for the Deaf.
Growing up, DiMarco wanted to teach maths at a deaf school, aspiring to eventually move to the administrative level.
But his path would shift thanks to the encouragement of Mark Wood, founder of the deaf-owned ASL Films and director of In The Can, an American Sign Language Films production. He also played the recurring character Garrett Banducci on Switched at Birth from 2014–15.
Nyle DiMarco is Deaf and uses American Sign Language. He sees his media profile as an opportunity to bring awareness to Deaf culture. He views deafness as an advantage in his career because he is accustomed to conveying messages without speaking. He is also convinced that deaf roles should be played by deaf actors.
DiMarco says he is too busy for love at the moment. “I am very single. A relationship is not a priority of mine. But I’m hoping soon enough.” He had previously described his sexuality as “fluid” on Twitter.
DiMarco explains what he looks for in a partner. “They have to be independent,” he said. “They have to believe they can do their own things. Communication, I think that’s most important. And outgoing as well. I like how I’m an outgoing person.”
AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL
In December 2015, Nyle was named the winner of the 22nd and last season of America’s Next Top Model.
DiMarco told People magazine: “Being a Deaf person on a television show alone is pretty groundbreaking, so it felt incredible just to be on the show – but to win it was amazing!
“I do not think I will ever be able to describe how I feel about being the first deaf contestant ever on the show who ultimately went all the way to the top… there are not enough words in the English dictionary!
“I want to point out that this is not only about breaking the barriers for the entire deaf community all over the world, but also about educating the world on what being deaf is truly all about – that it has a culture and a beautiful language, American Sign Language (ASL),” he said.
“I can see the world already moving forward, and I have to give a huge thank you to ANTM for giving me this platform. And, the best part is, I will not stop breaking down barriers!”
During the show, Nyle regularly showed his passion for ASL, using it to show the deep bond he has with his mother, who is also deaf, during one episode, and was even able to teach bits of it to some of his fellow models.
At the beginning of the show, Nyle viewed being deaf as a huge advantage – as his need to use movement for language left him specially equipped for using his body to express himself. But, as it later turned out, it wasn’t always helpful during the competition.
“During the show, there were a lot of beautiful deaf people reaching out to me asking me how they can get into modeling,” says Nyle. “I truly believe that not only did I help them conquer their fears, but I also made them realize that they should give it a shot!
“I hope my win helped shatter misconceptions about Deaf people. I hope my win will make people realize that we’re as normal as can be. I also hope my win will inspire Deaf people to do whatever they want to do in life! The possibilities are endless.”
America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks said: “What he is doing for the deaf community is revolutionary. He is now the most famous deaf person in the world!”
DANCING WITH THE STARS
On May 24, 2016, DiMarco and professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd were announced as the winners of Season 22 of Dancing with the Stars, the US version of Strictly Come Dancing. Their cha cha/tango to the Calvin Harris hit Summer earning them a perfect score in the final, judge Carrie Ann Inaba calling it the best dance she’d seen in the history of the show.
Several of his most memorable performances—including his freelance dance to Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence—were inspired by his life as a deaf man.
During Week 8, DiMarco and Murgatroyd danced to the song Victorious by Panic! at the Disco and included a silent section where the music totally dropped out, allowing viewers to experience what DiMarco experiences.
It was then that Nyle realised the title was within reach.
“That really hit me hard, and I felt like, ‘I have the potential of winning this,’ because I could feel the audience really connecting to me, and I thought that was the whole point of me being on Dancing with the Stars. It wasn’t about the dancing itself, it was about me connecting to the audience.”
Judge Inaba’s effort to learn a special sign language message touched Nyle. “There’s not a lot of people in this world that really make an effort to learn sign language,” he said of her moving tribute. “Her signing tells me that I’ve really made an impact on her, so that did touch me. And her message in itself touched me – it made me come to tears.”
And he was similarly touched by the connection he formed with dance partner Murgatroyd, 29. “Obviously Peta’s not used to working with a deaf person … but we worked well together,” he noted. “We were able to learn from each other, and that’s what made it the best.”
Nyle’s mother Donna, was delighted to witness her sons triumph: “I just joined in on the emotion, and the emotional journey he was going through. He really deserves this.”
NYLE DIMARCO FOUNDATION
“I hope to use the Dancing with the Stars platform to introduce my Nyle DiMarco Foundation and to raise awareness and help improve Deaf kids’ lives. Only two percent of the world’s Deaf population has access to education in sign language. Only 25 percent of parents use sign language to communicate with their Deaf children. Language deprivation is a serious issue and I want to resolve it through DWTS.”
DiMarco started The Nyle DiMarco Foundation earlier this year, with the purpose of providing more access to resources for Deaf children and their families. Their mission statement reads: “The Nyle DiMarco Foundation is a non-profit organization that
exists as a national philanthropic resource for all organizations, institutions and individuals working to improve the lives of every Deaf person in the world.”
The foundation lists a current priority area as Deaf children and their families: “The Foundation aims to improve access to accurate, research-based information about early language acquisition – specifically, the bilingual education approach. Through the early intervention process, the child’s language and literacy development should be the focal point.”
The Foundation claim that a major challenge for parents of Deaf and hard of hearing infants is to find accurate, research-based information on providing their Deaf infants with access to language. “During a critical period of their lives, parents need and deserve support and guidance as they make choices on how to raise their Deaf child.”
Nyle and the Foundation are guided by the principle that every child deserves love and language.
Nyle is also a signer and creative collaborator on The ASL App (by Ink & Salt), an App created by native Deaf signers to teach conversational American Sign Language (ASL).
As an honorary spokesman for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD–K), Nyle is passionate about literacy, anti-bullying campaigns and advocacy within the Deaf Community.
Visit the Nyle DiMarco Foundation website here.