I’ll admit it. I watched almost every single season of America’s Next Top Model. Mostly I loved seeing how the photos turned out in the end, tuning out the manipulated drama that took up half of each episode until the photo shoots began. Nyle DiMarco, the show’s first Deaf contestant, won season 22 (yeah, there were that many seasons and more). Much has been written about the problematic aspects of the show, and one chapter of his does touch on an episode where the producers failed to provide an ASL interpreter for him, but this book is not an exposé.
I’m not normally a big fan of the celebrity memoir, but this one looked intriguing, and like it might be more than a PR exercise. It was an excellent read, alternating between sharing information about Deaf history, and walking us through DiMarco’s life from growing up the child of Deaf parents with Deaf siblings, through school and then into his reality show journey (winning Dancing With the Stars shortly after America’s Next Top Model).
I learned things about the evolution of education methods in Deaf schools that I had no idea about before. For example, American Sign Language (ASL) wasn’t uniformly used to teach in Deaf schools until the late 1990’s or so. Instead, students were required to wear hearing aids and learn to read lips, with the assumption that it would help them navigate the world, even though reading lips meant students might only really understand about a quarter of what was being said. Students were often punished for using ASL at school, even though they would use it every chance they got outside of the classroom. It wasn’t until Deaf researchers proved that ASL was a real language, something that Deaf people already knew, that things changed. Sometimes I’m struck by how much history I don’t know.
Another excellent feature of the book is that when DiMarco relates ASL communications, he does so using all caps, with the words in the order that they’re signed, instead of translating them to standard written English. Overall, this book felt like excellent place to start reading about Deaf life and history. It definitely showed me that there is so much more to learn. If you have suggestions of what to read next, drop it in the comments!