Nyle DiMarco fits the bill of an America’s Next Top Model contestant – he’s gorgeous, tall and knows how to pose for the camera – but unlike the other contestants competing for the title on cycle 22, he’s Deaf.
“Being Deaf did not give me any hesitation to be a part of the show,” he tells PEOPLE. “In fact, I was thrilled. I saw it as an opportunity to not only become a supermodel, but to change the world’s perspective on Deafness.”
Growing up, DiMarco, 25, says he was “teased a little bit” for his inability to hear.
“People would sometimes call me ‘hearing impaired’ after they learned that the majority of Deaf people prefer to be called Deaf,” he says. “Calling us ‘hearing impaired’ is offensive because it tells us that we are broken, when we believe that we can do anything except hear.”
In fact, DiMarco – who was discovered by the show’s casting directors on social media – sees his Deafness as a benefit when it comes to modeling.
“I strongly believe that being Deaf gives me a huge advantage because my native language, American Sign Language, requires the use of facial expressions and body language expressions,” he says. “It helps to bring out stories when I am modeling for a photo.”
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The Top Model hopeful used an interpreter to help communicate during photo shoots and judging panels, but many times during filming, he was on his own.
“It is a reality show, so it’s more realistic for me to embark on the challenges without interpreters, like I do in real life,” he says.
DiMarco hopes his time on the show will help launch a successful modeling and acting career; he also wants to earn a master’s degree.
“I have a lot of projects in mind,” he says. “I just need to narrow them down and see what I really want to do and achieve.”
America’s Next Top Model airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.