Campus News

Deaf activist talks spreading awareness for deaf community, embracing identity

DiMarco described his first encounters using sign language with both the hearing and deaf communities at his lecture as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate's Distinguished Lecture Series.

DiMarco described his first encounters using sign language with both the hearing and deaf communities at his lecture as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate's Distinguished Lecture Series.

Image By: Lawrence Andrea

Nyle DiMarco, a deaf activist who rose to fame for his performances on “Dancing with the Stars” and “America’s Next Top Model,” was greeted by a sold out crowd at Memorial Union Tuesday night.

The audience didn’t clap, however. Instead, they excitedly shook their hands in the air, which is considered applause in American Sign Language.

DiMarco described his first encounters using sign language with both the hearing and deaf communities, including his experience of being the first deaf winner on both “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

He said he used the fame he gained from the two shows to spread awareness about the deaf community to the world.

At one point during the lecture, DiMarco shared a clip of him performing a dance to no music. He said he used this performance on “Dancing with the Stars” as an opportunity for viewers to “understand what it’s like to be a deaf person.”

“My goal for getting involved with ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was not about winning,” DiMarco said. “It was about merging two cultures and telling a story.”

According to DiMarco, changes need to be made to ensure deaf people are no longer ignored in the hearing community. He said that people who can hear often ignore others who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Right now, it’s really about flipping the script and turning the tables on people,” DiMarco said. “We need to let deaf people lead the charge.”

He encouraged those in the deaf community to embrace their deafness and to always stay positive, even when faced with oppression. If people embrace who they are, he said, they will be able to find more opportunities to do what they love.

In keeping with this theme, DiMarco concluded his speech by teaching the audience how to say “embrace yourself” in American Sign Language.

“Just by being true to myself and embracing my identity as a deaf person, I can really live out loud and share that journey with others,” he said. “I want that to apply to all of you — embrace your identity and that will lead you to success.”

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