Out actor and Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco (Dancing with the Stars & America’s Next Top Model champ) took part in an episode of the hidden camera show What Would You Do? which focused on discrimination faced by the Deaf community.
DiMarco explained to host John Quiñones that he and his family, who are all deaf, have experienced discrimination while being served in restaurants before.
“Often, waiters are completely petrified and unsure what to do with us,” said DiMarco. “You can see in their eyes their world kind of collapsing as they try and figure out how to deal with us.”
The hidden camera show set out to see how other diners would react to a waiter being rude and refusing to serve a Deaf guest (played by Deaf actor J.W.) while the cameras rolled. DiMarco also stepped in as the restaurant guest himself.
In one scenario, after the ‘waiter’ (also an actor) gets frustrated with J.W., a diner points out that J.W. is deaf. When the waiter tells the guest J.W. should have an interpreter with him, she suggests he could look at the menu where J.W. is pointing.
“That isn’t my job, though,” says the waiter.
The guest gets up from her table, walks to J.W.’s side, and reads aloud what he’s pointing to on the menu. Not so hard, huh?
Both J.W. and DiMarco told Quiñones they were happy with how people stepped in to address the waiter but added that things like that don’t happen very often in daily interactions. When one woman called the manager, Nyle said, “She’s doing everything right – this is what we’d love to see more people do.”
J.W. added, “Usually, when this kind of situation happens, people don’t get up and respond – or, it takes quite some time before somebody gets involved.”
See how diners react in the segment below.
In a post-show interview, J.W. offered this advice to Quiñones for interacting with Deaf people, “Accept other people for who they are, and learn how to communicate with everybody. The simplest body language, the simplest gestures, will go a long way and have a big impact.”
A few years ago, I met Nyle when the Chippendales brought him in to be their celebrity guest host in Las Vegas. It was heartening to see all of the Chippendales make an effort to learn some American Sign Language during his tenure at the show to better communicate with Nyle and help make him feel comfortable.
I do have some suggestions I learned from Nyle to help communicate with the Deaf community beyond simple hand motions.
First – pull out your phone out, type a text message, and then show it to the deaf person with whom you’re trying to communicate. They’re deaf, but they can read. It’s a simple approach to overcoming barriers.
If the person does lip read (not every Deaf person does), when you start speaking, don’t over enunciate or mumble. Both make it harder for someone to lip read.
Nyle has helped develop The ASL App for your phone, which teaches everyday phrases in easy to learn one-step lessons.
Developed, designed and created by Deaf people, you can pick up basics (even in slow motion if you don’t catch it the first time) to help communicate with those who use ASL.
There are also videos on YouTube with basic phrases that are easy to learn.