Model Nyle DiMarco Calls Out United Airlines For Bringing Him A Wheelchair Because He’s Deaf

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

Deaf model Nyle DiMarco recently called out United Airlines for unnecessarily associating deafness with the inability to walk.

Nyle DiMarco is a model, actor, and deaf activist. His inability to hear, though, doesn’t have anything to do with his ability to walk. He can walk around just fine! That’s why Nyle was utterly confused when he arrived at the Los Angeles airport to find that United Airlines had provided him with a wheelchair.

“Ooh a deaf person, give him a wheelchair,” Nyle mocked the airline on Twitter.

He also took a video of the wheelchair, which had his full name above it.

Nyle simply walked past it and kept going.

But it’s not the first time that this has happened to Nyle and countless other deaf people on flights. Nyle told the Daily Mail that he found the ignorance “funny” this time.

“How hearing people associate deaf with inability to walk astounds me,” he explained.

To be fair, some deaf people do use wheelchairs. But the two characteristics are not related, and Nyle has never actually requested a wheelchair from an airline. Yet so often it sits there waiting for him at the airport anyway.

Nyle DiMarco was the first ever deaf model to win America’s Next Top Model. Since then, he’s been a working model and actor; he’s appeared on TV shows like Switched at Birth and Dancing With the Stars (which he won!).

Nyle is also an activist for the deaf community. His first language is American Sign Language (ASL), and he uses English when writing online. He uses his platform to spread awareness about deaf culture and to fight ableism.

Recently, Nyle spoke up about a disturbing experience that he had while flying with United Airlines.

He saw his name on top of a wheelchair, waiting for him at the gate. But Nyle is just deaf — he doesn’t use a wheelchair.

First, Nyle took to Twitter to humorously share the incident.

Then he opened up to the Daily Mail to explain what happened in further detail.

“I honestly wanted to sit on it and document the entire wheelchair trip, but I didn’t want to take that away from others in need,” he said.

“This has happened multiple times. I’ve tweeted to United several times before,” he added. “This time I found their ignorance funny. How hearing people associate deaf with inability to walk astounds me.”

Several Twitter users responded to Nyle’s post in agreement. Many even shared their own similar experiences.

There is no correlation between hearing loss and lack of mobility, so why do airline employees assume that a wheelchair is necessary?

And while it is sort of funny that the two characteristics could be conflated with each other, it also speaks to a very serious lack of understanding of disabilities.

With that said, some people disagreed with Nyle’s reaction to the wheelchair. They asserted that many deaf people do have a combination of disabilities and might need to use a wheelchair.

And others pointed out that there’s no way for airline employees to know all of the specific disabilities that a passenger has, so they bring the wheelchair just in case. It’s better to have one there in case it’s needed.

Nyle addressed those disagreements in the Daily Mail, too, saying, “Of course not to say that all deaf people do not need a wheelchair or some sort of assistance. But it is just that I never requested one.”

Indeed, giving wheelchairs only to people who request them seems like a pretty simple, straightforward fix to this problem!

“When it happened the first few times I felt frustrated because the airlines have acknowledged and apologized, but it is clear that they’ve never pushed for change, nor have they trained their employees,” Nyle said.

Several other Twitter users have had identical experiences with United and other airlines, including another deaf activist, Chella Man.

“Deaf people don’t need wheelchairs just because they’re deaf, so don’t [bring] them a wheelchair! It’s a matter of respect, really. Start showing people you care,” one user wrote.

“I appreciate the thought, but actual services for the Deaf and hard of hearing in the airport would be a million times better. It’d be nice to know when I need to board and be able to read the pilot’s and flight attendants announcements on the plane,” another deaf woman said.

United Airlines responded to LittleThings with the following statement:

“At United, we go to great lengths to make all of our customers feel welcome and have a comfortable journey. Our Accessibility Help Desk coordinates the support we offer to customers who may need additional assistance while traveling. Frequently, the exact nature of the assistance that may be needed is unknown — so we’ll arrange for a wheelchair to be available because we would prefer to be over-prepared rather than unprepared when serving our customers. We have reached out to these customers to ensure that we have what we need — and don’t need — to serve them on future trips.”

Although some people have had negative experiences with United Airlines in the past, it seems like the airlines is truly dedicated to supporting the deaf and disabled communities going forward.