When one thinks of Sign Language, you may think of it as the language for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, not Hearing Impaired like many people still assume today. Some people believe that Sign Language is a universal language, and this is false. There are many specific kinds of Sign Language in different countries.
For example, in the U.S, people who are deaf or Hard of Hearing prefer ASL (American Sign Language), as opposed to a deaf person living in France who would most likely communicate through French Sign Language (LSF or langue des signes française as known in French). Another example would be British Sign Language (BSL).
For Nyle DiMarco, the first deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars; he uses his status as a platform to bring awareness to ASL and Deaf Culture. He sees this as an opportunity to provide a voice for the Deaf Community, as well as to push for more film representation of Deaf/HoH (Hard of Hearing) and or people with disabilities.
His performances on America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars show that you don’t need to be able to hear sound, to be able to have a career as a model, dancer, actor or even advocate. DiMarco, defies the stereotypes against Deaf people, through his accomplishments.
He has visited many different schools and universities to tell his story. He also takes the time to answer questions and give advice to other deaf people when it comes to jobs, Education and ASL.
During these events, he discusses how he got into advocacy for the Deaf Community through visiting a Deaf School, and how kindergarteners surrounded him as soon as he entered the classroom. He explains that, in that moment, he realized that these kids needed someone to look up to. He feels honored to be a role model for deaf children and to be able to inspire people.
According to the University of Wisconsin News, when asked about how he feels about this, DiMarco says, “I’m happy to be able to be the person that I am, and to bring my platform, because if it’s not me, who else would do this?”
Along with his activism, DiMarco has created the Nyle DiMarco Foundation. This is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to working to improve the lives of deaf people all over the world. The foundation’s goal is to provide access to research-based information regarding early language acquisition, particularly in approaching biligual education.
This organization is more specifically to help deaf children gain more access to ASL. If a deaf child is not able to learn ASL between ages 0 to 5 (which is a very important stage when it comes to language acquisition and development), deaf children can experience language deprivation. That can cause a delay in their development in social skills as well as their ability to learn.
During a recent interview with L’officiel; a French fashion magazine, Nyle talks about his career and the impact it has had on bringing more awareness to the Deaf Community as well as to ASL. He also spoke about representing Deaf and HoH people in the world of film. He goes on to state, “I cannot stress enough the importance of media including characters who intersect at LGBTQIA+ and Deaf/HoH or other disabilities, because there are millions of people worldwide who need to be represented.”
DiMarco has not only created a foundation toward helping Deaf children and their families but is also a spokesperson for the Lead-K (Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids).
When L’officiel asked about the foundation and Lead-K, DiMarco stated that, “We work closely with Lead-K supporting their legislation that ensures every Deaf child has access to healthy language- when I first got involved, we were starting from scratch, zero states were passing legislation like this. It really does take a village of passionate voices to educate, bring awareness and eventually make changes to the current system.”
In another interview with DiMarco, he explains certain things that he wants people to understand when it comes to ASL, as well as the importance of language acquisition.
When Mashable asked DiMarco how learning ASL at a young age changed his life he answered, “I was born into a large, multigenerational Deaf family-my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, and my two brothers are all Deaf. I am the fourth generation and have been exposed to American Sign Language and English since birth.” He continues to explain. “Knowing Sign Language saved my life. I was never alone. My entire family used Sign Language, so I never missed a dinner conversation.”
He further mentions that he attended many different Deaf schools including Gallaudet University, the only Deaf University in the U.S. He goes on to say, “With Sign Language, I was able to embrace my own identity as Deaf. I did not let being Deaf define me. Instead I defined it.”
When questioned why Deaf children don’t always have access to ASL or Sign Language Education, DiMarco discusses Audism. Audism is a term for people with a set of beliefs that include hearing people being considered superior due to the ability to hear. Also, people with these beliefs tend to pity Deaf people and believe they should become like hearing people as much as possible. They have also gone as far as banning the use of ASL or Sign Language.
With DiMarco paving away a path as both a model, actor and activist for the Deaf Community he shows the people that not only is he a man of many talents but is proof that anyone can become successful and talented even if they are different.