Navigating the Dating Scene with a Disability
Note: This is a collaboration with Disabled Mate and includes but a few opinions of the dating scene. Input has been provided by members of the Diversability Community but is not reflective of dating universally.
Outside this diverse community of ours, the phrase "disabled dating" invariably calls wheelchairs to mind. Every website devoted to romance for the disabled features the same tired photos of couples on the beach, one in a wheelchair, the other walking slowly alongside, head bowed attentively.
The real landscape is far more complex. Some disabilities are invisible and much stigma surrounds and impedes individuals impacted from getting a fair shot at dating. The tired walk-along-the-beach trope reflects a stereotype that equates disability with compromised mobility and limits. "People with disabilities are essentially left out of the sex and beauty culture that is so prevalent in American society,” says musician Gaelynn Lea. She continues, "although 19% of the population identifies as having disabilities, they are rarely if ever displayed favorably in the media as a sexual or desirable figure." Where does that leave a person who does not fit into the mainstream view of what makes a suitable partner?
While the romance websites are flawed at best, at least they're entertaining the possibility that disabled people might go on dates, might participate in romantic encounters. At least they aren't trying to make the disabled invisible, or to assume that disabled people date only amongst themselves. That's good. Nonetheless, the predominant view of disabled dating is limiting and there is progress yet to make.
More and more people without disabilities are pursuing potential partners from the disabled community. Some realize they have foolishly overlooked many wonderful partners and are opening their eyes for the first time. Some romanticize certain disabilities, while others - too few, but more every day - see the person first.
In a new relationship, each person in the pair will have personal experiences and views to share. There may be some misconceptions pertaining to your disability. While it is not the ideal, we are a part of a culture that is not always inclusive. You may be the first disabled person your date has ever had a serious conversation with. You have an opportunity to speak your narrative, before any assumptions are made. That said, you are not an ambassador from the disabled community. You're a person and you're out on a date. You're looking for fun and romance, just like the next person.
Conversations with people outside the disabled community traverse a predictable path. At first, your date will be too self-conscious and uncomfortable to mention your disability. At some point you'll become more comfortable around each other, and you'll invite questions. It's too easy to get stuck there. Help your date get past the curiosity phase by asking questions of your own, questions like, "Hey, isn't it time we decided what to have for dessert?"
Take a leadership role in helping plan your dates. Your new partner doesn't yet have a complete picture of your preferences and the practical considerations of your disability. Your partner doesn't know what you are comfortable doing and what is off limits - and that's reasonable, because every person is different.
You and your partner should both understand that boundaries like these are present in every relationship. Finding common ground is a natural part of the dating process for every couple, whether or not disabilities are involved. Developing interests together is a natural outcome of spending time in the company of another person.
Computers, smart phones, and the Internet have made it easier for people with and without disabilities to pursue social lives and romance. You and potential partners can focus on what's important - the ideas and values and attitudes you have in common rather than being impacted by the barriers we and society erect. While we can deny it, intrinsic biases do exist so don't be shy about using your computer or phone to socialize online. Technology makes it easier for everyone to meet interesting partners.
Putting it all together
Your disability does not prevent you from enjoying fun and romance. In the long run, being disabled may actually help you achieve romantic success. It demands that you engage in clear, direct communication with your partner. That's a good basis for any relationship.
Have a dating/romance story to share? Comment below or contact us.
Want another perspective? Crushing on these Ted Talks about Disability and Sexuality.
About Disabled Mate
We are YOUR home to find a loving match who will treat you with respect and love irregardless of your disability. If you don't know where to start, we are here to help. Simply join Disabled Mate and find your soulmate.
If you are disabled, it doesn't mean you can't have a vivid love life; however, you might need to make few adjustments in order to make it as pleasurable as possible. If you have some reservations about dating, we encourage you to let go of your fears and step into our online community.