Nyle DiMarco First Deaf ‘Dancing With The Stars’ Champ Says The Sky’s The Limit
Nyle DiMarco has already accomplished several firsts.
The model, actor and activist was not only the first Deaf contestant to appear on (and win) American’s Next Top Model (Cycle 22) he is now wowing the judges as the first Deaf contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
A native New New Yorker, Nyle was born into a large multi-generational Deaf family and is an alumni of Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts University in the world for the Deaf. We caught up with him to talk about dancing, his five year dream plan and “sky’s the limit” attitude, and his take on potential barriers facing deaf people in 2016.
BFL: Congratulations on all of your success! You are an incredible inspiration for the people we work with at our shelters and programs for people with disabilities who are survivors of domestic violence or who have been homeless. Early on as a Deaf individual, did you face particular challenges that felt daunting or obstacles that you overcame?
Nyle: Thank you! I don’t actually view myself as disabled, having to overcome a few obstacles along the way that people who hear don’t normally encounter, but not disabled. This is because I was born into a large multi-generational Deaf family. My Deaf parents knew the best for me as a Deaf person and taught me ASL and put me into deaf schools. The limit was the sky. My identity solidified as a Deaf person and whatever challenges I face, I know I am able. It is extremely important to accept and have an identity in order to succeed.
BFL: Who has been an inspiration for you through your life?
Nyle: I have never had a favorite inspiration growing up. I have always looked up to many Deaf leaders who kept Deaf schools alive, promoted Deaf leadership camps, and fought for Deaf rights.
BFL: Our agency name, Barrier Free Living, refers to our belief in overcoming barriers in life. Have you faced any particularly daunting barriers through your journey, and what advice would you give to someone who feels overwhelmed or fearful to keep striving to reach higher in life?
Nyle: I have never faced a barrier in life because I grew up within my Deaf community where opportunities were rich. However if I had to pick one, it would be America’s Next Top Model. I was the only Deaf (contestant) and stayed through for two months. I experienced language deprivation and isolation. What helped me to reach higher was to represent my community well (which also meant winning) and it worked. I achieved a positive light on my community and more people were aware not to leave one behind.
BFL: A lot of people are awed at your dance prowess on Dancing with the Stars (including me). Can you tell us about your process in learning the dances and performing, and if your approach as a Deaf person on the show is in any way unique?
Nyle: Sound already does not exist in my world. I was born Deaf and not hearing anything is normal to me. I am a visual person and my learning techniques are through my eyes. Peta ( Murgatroyd, the pro he dances with on the show) achieved that. She taught me by showing me how and what footwork should look like. We dance over and over again for me to pick up and memorize the timing.
BFL: What is your five year dream plan?
Nyle: My own written TV show on television. My Nyle DiMarco Foundation being the center foundation for early intervention – ASL and English for every Deaf infant to prevent language deprivation.
BFL: Thanks! We will be rooting for you next Monday!
Nyle is 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.
Learn more about Barrier Free Living.