A Blind Eye to People Who Are Deaf: Nyle DiMarco

Nyle DiMarco is the latest winner of Tyra Bank’s popular modeling and reality show America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). The show gains rating by not only portraying beautiful models, but also by narrating how many of the contestants had overcome adversity in their lives. In the countless seasons or cycles the audience has witness how contestants, mostly women, have struggled with the pressure of being a model. However, in its closing season, ANTM showed us how diverse struggling could be. ANTM did it by having contestant Nyle DiMarco, its first contestant that is deaf. Nyle came to the show with the typical good looks of a male model and a humble personality that prohibited the audience from ignoring the fact that he was deaf. Nyle is proud of who he is and he forced us to watch, to learn, to listen. Nyle taught us that we do not need to pretend to be blind in front of those who are deaf just because we do not know how to react or communicate with them. And so, episode by episode, we started to learn.

The world of modeling is already a strange dimension to anyone outside of it. The eccentricities of the industry could be alienating to those who do not indulge in fashion. Moreover, the business of modeling has been a safe haven to those who wouldn’t otherwise fit the norm. Take gay men as an example. Many male models are gay and in many occasions their identity is embraced by their colleagues and bosses. However, Nyle opened the eyes of his colleagues by showing how diverse diversity could be. At the same time, he fostered our empathy every time we found ourselves frustrated with him when he could not communicate with his peers and staff and when he felt isolated, misunderstood, and disrespected. Hence, a list of things you should know about people who are deaf in case you would like to continue the journey of understanding, acceptance, and empathy:

  • According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD):
    • About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears;
    • More than 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents;
    • Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing;
    • One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations;
    • Men are more likely than women to report having hearing loss.
  • Being deaf does not mean that you cannot “talk”.
  • Most people who are deaf do not want to be a “hearing” individual.
  • For many people, being deaf is who they are and they do not want to change their identity.
  • Those who are deaf consider themselves a community regardless of geographical location.
  • People who are deaf are not “dumb” or “less intelligent”.
  • Being deaf shapes a person’s worldview; however, they are much more than the way they communicate.
  • Many community centers teach ASL at no-cost or low-cost.
  • New technology has expanded the way in which people who are deaf connect with the world.
  • The term “deaf” could be interpreted to include individuals who are hard of hearing, late deafened, and deaf-blind.

Learn more about Nyle: https://youtu.be/7IlU06_bM4I

More on ASL: http://www.handspeak.com/word/


  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)- http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/Pages/quick.aspx
  2. National Association of the Deaf- http://nad.org/

The Multiple Faces of Immigration

The topic of immigration in the social policy arena has always been a big debate. It is such a controversial issue that it is almost a “bad word” that comes out of the mouth of those sitting on the legislative floor. However, immigration also seems to be a popular theme in mainstream media nowadays. We see on the news those who want an immigration reform hold signs in front of the groups that want immediate deportation of “illegal aliens”. These images imprison our society between solely two options that have been colored by the sensationalism of biased reporters. Therefore, immigration is seen as a good-and-evil battle, an illegal-legal argument, a homogeneous issue. Perhaps immigration and those who are part of this movement have diverse stories and reasons that triggered the action of moving from their country of origin. Even though we are only exposed to images of poor, dirty, native-looking immigrants crossing the border, immigration has multiple faces.

For millions of years, people have migrated around the world… for freedom, for economic opportunity… for the pursuit of happiness (Calderin-Oliva, 2014). Currently in the United States of America (USA) for example, “one out of every five children under the age of 18 in the United States is the child of an immigrant and about two of five Hispanics are foreign-born” (De Haymes & Kilty, 2007, p. 104). The USA was built by immigrants who in part moved to the western hemisphere for freedom of religion. This opened the door (or coasts and borders) to others who were seeking different types of freedom. Currently, some of the reasons for immigration respond to personal issues, familial problems, and community discord.

It has been said in the past that many young men from Mexico and other countries in Latin America migrated to the USA as a form of right of passage where those considered “men” would move away to work and provide for their families. While poverty and limitation of financial and human resources in some countries are considerable reasons for immigration, money is not the only trigger for it. To consider this last statement individuals need to understand that immigration not only has the face of Latinos that cross the border, but the faces of families that come from all around the world. The immigration issue is not a matter of “poor illegal Mexicans”, it is a matter of universal freedom.

As a social worker I have worked with immigrants from many countries of origin. These individuals narrate to me their stories, and one time after another, they are never the same. However, sometimes these stories are framed by a common theme: violence. For example, there are people that move out of their country of origin due to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence arrive daily fleeing from their oppressors. On the other hand, some people migrate due to community violence underscored by drugs and gangs. This violence is hurting those who need us the most, the children. The reality is that,

Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up… a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis. (Nazario, S., 2014).

On the other hand, immigrants are also motivated to scape by hostile political situations. These immigrants seek a country where they are not harassed by police officers, by laws, by criminals supported by lawmakers. Violence is the root of many of our social problems and, therefore, for immigration. However, violence perpetuates a repercussion of other social problems that also provoke exile.

Many immigrants come to the USA for better education or access to education. Others come following a better healthcare system or a more accessible healthcare industry. I have heard of people staying in the USA due to better access to HIV/AIDS care, services, and medications, for example. Furthermore, others escape religious oppression (just like our ancestors) and seek a place that fosters freedom of religion. Others migrate to escape the stigma, prejudice, and hatred targeted towards their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though there are many more reasons for immigration, these should not be consider as exclusive since an intersectionality of situations are the norm.

The USA seems to have been developing a hostile sentiment towards immigrants based on the ignorance of the abovementioned factors. This sentiment misrepresents the identity of those who arrive in the USA for diverse reasons and with diverse intentions. Entitlement is not a reason I have yet seen in immigrants in my practice as a social worker. Perhaps when we are able to see the multiple faces of immigration we will able to formulate an informed-based opinion and empathy for those who just want a chance for a better life while helping sustain the country’s economy. Our immigrants made the decision of becoming one at the high cost of leaving their children and families behind and at the mercy of faith, death, and illness. Their many faces reflect blood, sweat, hope, trauma, bravery, love, and willingness.

References and Sources:


De Haymes, M., & Kilty, K. M. (2007). Latino population growth, characteristics, and settlement trends: Implications for social work education in a dynamic political climate. Journal of Social Work Education, 43(1), 101-116.

Image retrieved from: http://govbooktalk.gpo.gov/tag/civics/

We Are All “Conchita”

Have you seen the bearded guy that wears dresses on TV? Who hasn’t!? Conchita Wurst has been all over the news after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The fact that Conchita won shouldn’t be impressive since the girl can really sing. However, most of the news regarding Conchita have been around the fact that she looks “different”. Many may say she is talented, some that she is weird, others that she is… eccentric.

The word eccentric typically appeals to the “weird”, “abnormal”, “strange”, and in some occasions to the “bizarre”.  So yes, maybe we don’t see many bearded ladies walking down the street everyday and it can seem “strange” to some people. However, that is the beauty of diversity; the fact that many of us have distinctive traits not shared with others. Furthermore, Emig (2003) states that “Eccentricity becomes a viable and necessary cultural concept when culture begins to be perceived as having centres and margins”. Centers? Margins? Eming (2003) further explains,

“The concept of eccentricity serves as a field of experimentation, but also tolerance and compromise in times of cultural self-interrogation.  The eccentric is on the margins of the acceptable and conventional, but not outside it. The eccentric is not strange, ill, criminal or perverse, although the borderline towards becoming an excluded ‘Other’ remains close. At the same time what is at the centre of culture at any given time in this concentric model now requires the continual reference to its margin (p. 380).”

So the question is: Who is in the center? Who is in the margin? When someone is displaced into the margins he or she becomes marginalized. Marginalization of individuals who seem “different” has been historically a reality. No, I am not going to start talking about witches or wizards, nor of slaves or indigenous populations. However, we need to address the present marginalization of those who look “eccentric” to society. Those who are physically disabled, dress different, wear different clothes (or none at all), who love someone of their same gender, have a different skin color, who are polyamorous, who talk different. In one way or another, we all fit one or more of these marginalized populations. Hence, how could we establish what is “abnormal” or “bizarre” in our community? 

Every individual should be treated as unique, as eccentric. Prejudice, maltreatment, oppression, and marginalization should not be happening in 2014 when our communities are composed by diversity. At the end of the day we are all eccentric in our very own way. At the end of the day we are all Conchita.

21. Lifeball AIDS HIV Charity Magenta (Red) Carpet

Photo source: http://thunderbird37.com/conchita-wurst-have-a-view/



American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatry Publisher.

Emig, R. (2003). Eccentricity begins at home: Carlyle’s centrality in Victorian thought. Textual Practice, 17(2), 379. doi:10.1080/0950236032000094890

Silver Linings in Modern Society

Social media is the biggest and more influential resource of information in our Century. Many may think only Facebook and CNN modify how we see the World; however, music and movies impact our life perspective as well. It is said, for example, that individuals that watch romantic comedies could expect their relationships to work the same unrealistic ways. In fact, many of the recent movies released portray the story of two characters that, after some cathartic moment, come back together and live happily ever after. Independently of your taste in movies (or even if you don’t have time to watch one due to your agitated professional life), you have to accept that lately, many movies and TV shows are displaying a different society.

More than sixty years ago we could see a black and white Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (“Ricky” Ricardo) laughing through adventures as an interracial couple in the “I Love Lucy” show. Ricky’s accent was delightful and Lucy’s naive occurrences were to laugh out loud. They were an adorable couple and America has loved them throughout the years even when the show stopped airing way before many of us were born. What is it that made this interracial couple likable in a prejudice America back in the 1950’s? That despite their diverse cultural backgrounds, they were a traditional family. However, today we see a different scenario.

We can watch TV show “Glee” with a student with disability character (and more recent a transgender) and “The New Normal” narrating the story of a gay couple and their separated surrogate mother-to-be. A more diverse population pops-up in our TV and in front of our children and youth. Why? Well, because that is America. On the other hand, disability and homosexuality are becoming more and more present in our lives. Hence, our tolerance or acceptance of related stories in the media. These characteristics are most of the time visible and we either understand them or at least normalize them. This leads us to a deficit in diversity. What happens with those differences we cannot see or understand? Do we segregate them? Do we condemn them? The movie “Silver Linings Playbook”, however, transports us to this more diverse and realistic world.

“Silver linings” is a metaphorical term or expression that refers to the brighter side of a dull situation (like when a gray cloud has spots of light). Similarly, “Silver Linings Playbook”, directed by David O. Russell, highlights the story of Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Pat and Tiffany have multiple mental health diagnosis. Even though the movie is also guided by the stereotypical Hollywood story line, it is not playing in every movie theatre. In fact, I watch it in the movie theatre were they play “foreign” or “alternative” movies. Maybe it is because Pat and Tiffany’s stories are still an “alternative” life style to our society, or even “foreign” to many’s eyes. Hence, the movie, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, touches the topic of psychological disorders like bipolar, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, “Silver Linings Playbook” explores relationships, grieving, sexual promiscuity, mental health medications, and dance therapy. Yes, this couple is the couple you wouldn’t invite to Thanksgiving dinner because they do not have a filter when they express their opinions.

Our diverse society is being more aware of each other differences. We are seeing diversity and we are trying to understand it. However, are we ready to see invisible differences? Are we ready to be aware of the “silver linings” in others? The answer relays on each individual and its contribution to the collective. Until then, many Pats and Tiffanys will be segregated and misunderstood and mental health will still be stigmatized as a decease rather than a diverse characteristic of an individual. We can only hope social media will portray more and more differences, not from a pathological perspective, but from an inclusive an more comprehensive point of view.