Nyle DiMarco rose to fame as the first Deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model in 2015. Since then, the 31-year-old has been busy working as both an actor and model with great success — including a stirring win on Dancing With the Stars (US) in 2016.
While he’s had great success in the public eye, behind-the-scenes, DiMarco has also been a fierce disability rights activist, founding the Nyle DiMarco Foundation which ensures language equality and access among Deaf babies and children from birth.
Now, he’s the executive producer of a new Netflix reality series — also known as a docu-soap — Deaf U.
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Let’s take a glimpse of the behind the scenes, and I wanted to say thank for the production team to make this happen. As I said, this is only the beginning of breaking down the barriers for the Deaf community to connect more with the hearing world where both worlds can work together, such as opportunities for Deaf people to be part of and jobs, to be given for. To have more acknowledgment of the deaf community as well. Also, thanking the cast members of Deaf U for sharing their stories and for remembering that it is an individual’s story. A friendly reminder is that Deaf U don’t represent the whole Deaf community.
The series premiered on Netflix on October 10 and follows deaf and hard of hearing college students at Gallaudet University in Washington DC and it’s just as juicy as any other reality TV show, only better.
Even though the story centres around college-age kids — who certainly go through the same coming-of-age trials and tribulations as everyone else — it’s an education for those who can hear.
The students talk about struggling to communicate while in a romantic relationship (while those who can hear can “cuddle and talk” when you are Deaf or hard of hearing, you have to cuddle and then move away to sign or lip-read), ordering drinks by showing their order on a phone screen and even the hierarchy of being Deaf. According to the teens, there is such a thing as not being “Deaf enough”.
In the early 2010s, DiMarco visited the campus of students who are a tight-knight community.
“I always felt like we really needed a reality TV show about the university – so many juicy things happen on campus,” he told The Guardian in an interview using an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter.
According to the activist, the goal of the series was “to break the mould”.
“Most of the time when we see deaf characters or deaf personalities in TV shows or film, they’re very one-dimensional. There’s no real nuance to who they are. You don’t really deep dive into their experience; you don’t really see any layers to their character,” he said.
The show (intentionally) highlights a range of Deaf and partial hearing experiences — including Daequan, who was born into a hearing family and after a seizure at the age of six, he lost the ability to hear from his left year and Cheyenna, a completely Deaf influencer and YouTuber.
There’s also the Deaf “elite” — a group of students who come from a family filled with generations of Deaf members who are very cliquey.
The best thing about Deaf U is by far the fact that it will propel Deafness into the mainstream with a serious education for the masses. Whether you are disabled or not, you will feel all of the emotions and sometimes all at once.
It’s also incredibly addictive viewing and must-add to your “watch next” playlist.
Catch Deaf U on Netflix now.
WATCH: The official trailer for Deaf U on Netflix.