Dating while disabled presents a set of unique challenges, but there are plenty of ways to navigate sex, dating, and relationships to create a healthy, fun space for yourself.
In this stream, matchmaker and three-time stroke survivor Claire AH talks about dating while disabled: when to disclose your disability, how and if you should educate your suitor, dealing with microaggressions, what to do when we come up against people with fetishes or ulterior motives, and how accessibility can affect us.
For people with visible disabilities, disclosing disability is not an issue. But for those with more invisible disabilities, knowing when to talk about it can be difficult. Like most things in dating, it’s a personal decision: Some like to be upfront and include a picture or description in a dating profile, while others like to only bring it up when relevant. Being upfront, however, can be a good way to weed out those who won’t date a person with a disability for whatever reason.
If you do match with someone on an app or meet someone, they may have questions about your disability. Of course, it’s up to you to set your own boundaries about what you will and will not answer. Claire AH suggests saying something like, “Hey, these are all really great questions, let's get to know each other a little bit better and maybe we can discuss this more in person [...]” You could also decide you never want to educate people and that you only want to date people “who get it.” The same goes for dealing with people who present “benevolent ableism” or microaggressions. This can be anything from people being condescending, to people being surprised you can or want to do things, to people applying a friend’s experience to your own. You get to decide if you want to engage, if you want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, or if you want to leave that person behind entirely.
If you do find someone you want to go on a date with, you’ll want to consider an accessible meeting space. For example, choose somewhere well lit, if you have low visibility. Choose a bar without stairs and an easy entrance bathroom if you use a mobility device. If you haven’t had luck with dating apps, you can narrow your dating search to places you know are accessible and where people are more likely to accept and understand your disability — Meetup.com can be a good tool for this, as you can connect with social-justice or volunteer-oriented groups, where people are often more likely to be educated on disability. You could also find Meetups for board game or movie nights, a theater group, etc.
When dating, Claire AH says you may want to be wary of people who want to be with you to fulfill a fetish. A person fetishizing you may be making assumptions about disability in general, and eroticizing the fact you need them to care for you. While this can be OK in healthy amounts, it can be problematic for someone to view you as helpless, and to not want to date you for other reasons. While there’s definitely a fair share of people out there with ulterior motives, there’s likely even more who just want to date you for you.
While dating with a disability can certainly be a challenge, there are many ways to make it work for you. It’s important to define your boundaries, think about how you’d like to disclose and communicate your disability, and how much information you are willing to share with a potential suitor about it. Selecting spaces where more accepting people gather can be a good first step toward finding someone who is right for you.