Nyle DiMarco: Hey, wassup, hello

So imagine my mama, who is becoming more adept at social media/using the internet than I am (embarrassing) saying, “Shayna. Have you heard about the newest winner of America’s Next Top Model? He’s deaf, dark haired, blue-eyed, and handsome.” Since I have been living under a ROCK for the past month (finals finals finals), my answer was no. Since I have no intentions of emerging out from under said rock to interact with the world just yet, I spent the past two days watching an entire season of America’s Next Top Model (with closed captions) like it was going out of style (lol never).


Sure, cycle 22 may have been the most dramatic season I’ve ever seen, but it was also the most intriguing, and that is because of Nyle. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on a T.V. show, especially considering my deafness. However, Nyle’s task is one that even I cannot pretend to comprehend.


Nyle is a member of the Deaf community, which means he uses nonverbal communication and sign language as his means of expressing himself. The other 21 contestants were hearing individuals. No matter what kind of drama those other people got up to, if Nyle was in the shot, I was focused on him.


And not just ’cause he’s cute, okay? Okay.

It was so inspiring to see Nyle keep up with the others. His reasons for doing the show (proving that deaf/Deaf people can do anything) and his method of going about it just blew my mind. He was so composed and so patient, and while I can’t say I fully understand what it is like to be in his shoes, I feel that I understand more so than the average person.

When Nyle’s phone, which was one of his primary forms of communication with the other contestants (via various talk-to-text and sign-to-speech technologies) was taken from him so another contestant could take selfies, I felt his anger and his frustration. Obviously, what that contestant did was not cool and it should not have happened. At the same time, I understand Nyle’s desire to keep peace and not disrupt the vibe, choosing instead to internalize the frustration rather than express it. Many times, I have been in social situations where my hearing impairment was either forgotten or just completely disregarded, sometimes maliciously. Still, I wanted to give others the benefit of the doubt, to allow them the naiveté of not having to adopt another person’s perspective or burden.


When Nyle was a cast member on Tyra Banks’ music video, I was so stoked to see him keep time with the music (with some help from the crew and Tyra). He even did better than some hearing individuals!

When Nyle had to do a photoshoot in the pitch black of night (no sight AND no sound?!) I felt that bewilderment and desperation to succeed, in spite of a so-called “disability.” I was reminded of various nighttime talks I would have with my friends, around campfires, on buses, or just because. I remember feeling lost, like I had no anchor to hold on to, no visual cues, no facial expressions — just sound, which for me, and most other deaf individuals, is not always enough.


When Nyle had to walk the final runway to the sound of violins (no bass? Really, people, really?) I was taken back to my days as a songleader in high school, where I was able to perform in front of large crowds despite the fact that I couldn’t always hear the music. I had a job to do and an image to sell, and deafness didn’t really have a place in that description.


When Nyle won, I could not comprehend how he must have felt. Yes, I understand pretty much every step of his story. I feel his pain, confusion, frustration, excitement, determination, and enthusiasm. He handled feeling invisible (because no one else spoke his language) with absolute poise and maturity. He kept his wit and humor despite the difficulty on many fronts — social, modeling, and beyond. Yes, I too, have been in similar shoes. But Nyle DiMarco did it without spoken language. As a result, I was positively mind-boggled. I once heard a person say, “blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from other people.” Watching Nyle DiMarco, and keeping in mind my own experiences, I just know this isn’t true.


We are all bound by the human condition, and we all have different battles. A deaf/Deaf individual can connect to another person just as well as the next person. But other people have different obstacles to face and overcome. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t any one type of minority group keeping up with a majority. I think it is high time we all understood that life is the story of individuals not only keeping up with each other, but also holding each other up.


Seeing how Nyle found ways to reach his fellow contestants and seeing how they, Tyra, the judges, and the crew reached out to him was something special. As a deaf individual, it is reinforcing to see someone similar to me go out on a limb like that and succeed. Not necessarily because I feel like I can’t do it too, but simply because it is beautiful. It is progress. It is not a solution, it is not a clear announcement that okay, now being deaf is totally mainstreamed and normal, but I’d say it’s a start. A fierce one, at that.


Nyle DiMarco is helping amplify the voices (and signs) of so many deaf/Deaf people coming out of their shells and sharing their stories. His journey has been awe-inspiring from the get-go, and there is nowhere for him to go but up. Many thanks to Nyle, to America’s Next Top Model, and to the viewers who had open minds for helping to redefine what beauty is in the 21st century.

Nyle has an InstagramTwitter, and Facebook page. Follow him, like him, spread the love.




So You Think You Can’t Dance?

Hello Earpluggers!

This past Tuesday, I finally finally finally got to do an activity I haven’t done in two years.

What is it?


Don’t get me wrong, I have danced at parties and shimmied around my room just as much, if not more than the next person. But what I have been itching to do is really dance. Dance like triple pirouette calypso roll to the ground bruised knees, sore body type dance. The kind I did in high school.

But wait! You exclaim. Dance? Aren’t you deaf?

Well sure, I reply, but what of it?

From an outsider’s perspective, I can see how this is a little bit oxymoronic. A deaf dancer? A blind painter? A paralyzed athlete? These types of people are not so common, but they DO exist. I can’t speak for the painter or the athlete (is dance a sport, though? Let’s save that can of worms for another day), I can certainly speak for myself, and here’s what I’ve got to say about this.

There are things a person CAN do, and things a person WON’T do. You’ll notice instead of saying “can’t” I said “won’t.” You may see where this is going.

Perhaps we can chalk this attitude up to a series of dance teachers who pushed me during every class and every private lesson to perform feats of dance with my own body I never before thought possible. Perhaps it is my disability, teaching me resilience. Either way, I feel that there is nothing a person cannot do if they really, truly, completely set their mind to it. I once heard the saying “if there’s a will, there’s a way.”

For me, there was a will. Granted, my first love was soccer. Then it was horseback riding. But once I realized that what I truly loved to do was groove to a great beat, I enrolled in dance classes.

But how? You may ask, still confused.

Here’s how. Prior to my implant, I really could not hear much when it came to music. I relied on the heavy downbeats and vibration of the bass in the floor to keep me on cue. I also would double, triple memorize the eight counts, and often times, those counts were the only thing I had to go off of. Accents in the music were all but lost on me.

It was hard, but it was doable. I found a way to pursue my passion without being held back by any disability.

Since my cochlear implant, my ability to hear music has made leaps and strides (pun SO intended), and my love for dance only grew. Now, I can hear accents in the music, lyrics, bass, downbeat, upbeat, sidebeat — well you get the point. If for some reason I don’t hear it, if someone points it out to me, I will pick up on it.

In fact, my biggest problem isn’t so much hearing the music as it is keeping the implant on my head. The force of a piroutte (turn) or a head roll is enough to send my implant flying across the room. Again, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I used double sided wig tape to secure the implant to my head, I wore an ear mold to anchor it to my ear, and I used a giant hair clip to fasten the magnet to my hair. It is complicated and it is slightly insane, but it works! With this crazy solution making, I was able to dance on my high school’s song team (also known as a pom dance team at other schools). I got to perform at basketball and football games, pep rallies, shows, open houses, and more. I loved every single second of it.

Sure, I had a disability that would seem, at first glance, to prevent me from participating in one of my absolute favorite activities, but the truth is, I knew that there was no way my heart and soul could be kept off a dance floor — and I acted accordingly. I believe that if anyone is compelled to, drawn to, lead to, dragged to any particular activity, no matter how crazy or far fetched it seems to that person, anything is possible. It takes guts, blood, sweat, tears, confidence, humbleness, resilience, perseverance, and more. I didn’t say success is a given, I said it was possible.

And possible, my friends, is where you start.

Curious to see what I look like when I dance? Can you guess which one I am? Check out this link. Then, come back to this page and scroll down for the answer. Also, thanks to my Song friend Sarah McVickar (who also appears in this video with me) for getting me to an empty dance room, and to Travell Johnson for some kick ass choreography.


(I’m the one in pink).