‘America’s Next Top Model’, actor spotlights Deaf community


Nolan Swenson/Advance-Titan — America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco visited UW Oshkosh on Tuesday and inspired many students.

Nolan Swenson, Co-Sports Editor

Reeve Union Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Programs hosted American model, actor and Deaf advocate Nyle DiMarco on Tuesday. In his event, he facilitated a conversation on the abilities of the Deaf.

Denise Clark, a UW Oshkosh professor in special and early childhood education, said she believes this event is paramount to representation on campus.

“Representation matters, and when it comes to deaf people there is no visible difference,” Clark said. “Folks often don’t realize that there is a Deaf community. Having such a huge Deaf role model, especially for young people, coming to campus is a spotlight on that community.”

If you’re unfamiliar with DiMarco, he played the role of Garrett Banducci in “Switched at Birth in 2014-2015. In 2015, he took  greater strides to stardom by winning “America’s Next Top Model,” the first deaf man to do so.

When talking about his time on “America’s Next Top Model,” he recalled how isolating it can be, and compared it to his youth in a New York public school for the deaf. He discussed the need for funding and creation of deaf spaces, where they can freely sign and communicate within their own community, and the detriment of students when that environment is non-existent. He recalled how he was constantly made to wear a bulky hearing device, one that he often purposefully lost.

He began to compare it to his experiences on set, receiving little to no support until production saw that he was suffering from a lack of community on set. Due to their observations he was given a phone to communicate, something no one else had access to. However, that even showed how difficult it was to be treated as an equal. This was because at one point in time a fellow competitor took his phone to post selfies with.

“This was my one form of communication and they used it to take selfies,” he said. “They did not think of me as human, as needing to be or even able to communicate with others.”

The win catapulted him into the spotlight, allowing him greater representation in the Deaf community by appearing in “Dancing with the Stars.

During “Dancing with the Stars” he still faced challenges; after all, how do you move without knowledge of the beats and music? He took this stigma head on through hard work, and after several rounds of competition his teammate had an idea. By the use of loud music Nyle would be able to better feel the vibrations of the sounds; however, this ruined their performance in practice.

“I understand rhythm differently,” he said. “She was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken between us.”

This formulated a new idea in Nyle where he invited the audience into his world while he danced. When performing “Victorious” by “Panic! At the Disco” he turned off the music, and by doing so he allowed the audience into his shoes for how he performs.

With this attention generated for both himself and the Deaf community, he came out as sexually fluid. By doing this, he took a step toward intersectionality of both communities, a move that Clark said opened doors between the two communities.

“Both the LGBTQIA+ community and the deaf community have experienced a lot of bigotry and isolation in the larger community,” she said. “This intersection isn’t a community that has had a lot of visibility. so he’s starting dialogues between and about the two communities.”

DiMarco has also represented the Deaf community through the production of TV shows, “Deaf U” and “Audible”. Both of these shows are available on Netflix and center on higher education and high school students who navigate their status of hard of hearing in a hearing focused world. “Deaf U” also takes a step into deaf culture by showing off Gallaudet University. A place Dr. Clark refers to it as, “ an important cultural place,” as well as DiMarco’s alma mater.

DiMarco’s success is not an exception, but a flower that was nurtured to maturity. He was raised in a Deaf home, that for four generations had nurtured and communicated in ASL, leading DiMarco to recognize that it was a tool he could use to best express himself. He wasn’t the only one who has benefited from the household. His brother, Nico, is even able to D.J. and dance, though not as well as DiMarco.

DiMarco used his time on campus to enunciate a range of ideas, but the overarching message is that deafness is not “a problem to be fixed.” Because of this, he closed out his discussion by showing the crowd the sign for love yourself – an idea he spent the evening championing.

As he showed, it’s not the Deaf’s job to adapt to a hearing world, but to cultivate a world and culture of their own. 

“About 1.4 billion people suffer from hearing loss,” he said. “We are not a small minority, and we shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Editor’s Note: The story was updated to correct the sponsoring agency of Nyle’s appearance.