Hot & Impaired: Disability, Dating, and Disclosure

Dating is tricky enough, and for those of us with a disability, it also begs the question of when to disclose the fact you have a disability.

If you have enjoyed the pleasures of online dating, you know that things can get way-too-personal, way-too-quick.

Sometimes getting too personal is exactly what you are looking for, and other times it’s a real boner killer.

As a person who identifies as disabled, I and others like me, have many stories to share of when a question comes up that push our limits of comfort. For me, this question comes in some form of: “What happened to you?” (I do have a very visible disability, which I’ll talk about in a moment.)

Open Disclosure

I like to put my disability right out there. I typically don’t make it my first picture, but I do make sure I have pictures posted where you can clearly see I wear a prosthesis and don’t have two hands. When it comes to the writing portion of a dating profile, I include something sassy and positive to describe my disability. Something like, “a few limbs short of a full deck”, “unable to play myself in a thumb war”, or “partially bionic = not waterproof” shows that I have no shame in my disability.

When I know I’m going to meet someone in person and they haven’t brought up my disability, I like to mention it ahead of meeting in order to feel that I’ve disclosed as much as I can. But not everyone takes this approach.

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Some disabilities are not plainly visible, and not everyone has the option to hide theirs when photographed. Conditions like visual impairments and social disorders can go unnoticed, until it’s disclosed and talked about. Every person living with a disability identifies and handles these conversations differently. When it’s in a romantic setting, it’s no less harrowing than when thinking about disclosing in a job interview or just to acquaintances.

Why Is It So Tough to Disclose?

For the most part, people like to idealize our prospective mates. We build a lot of anticipation between reading a short bio, and meeting someone for the first time. The tough bit comes when we meet someone, start learning about them, and draw conclusions based on their answers. “Oh, he was quick to ditch that bad situation, that’s good”, or “Well, that’s no way to treat them if they’re your friend”.

The same can be said for job interviews. While you may be a strong fit for a job, you’re not well versed in some new system they are looking for, so you don’t mention your lack of experience until you’ve at least demonstrated other expertise first. This is why it’s also hard to disclose a disability really early on in a relationship.

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Taking the point a step deeper, if your prospect hasn’t read this article, and isn’t mature, they may quickly follow up with some really inappropriate questions. For example, “Do you have nurses who come help you get dressed in the morning”, or  “wow … so … can you even have sex?” .And so goes the vicious cycle. Don’t be that person, educate yourself and do better. Reading this article is a great start! 

Doing Disclosure Well

Disabilities fall on a spectrum, and how comfortable each of us is living with our disability does too. When it comes time to discussing my disability in a conversation, I would fall on the “confidently well adjusted” end of that spectrum. Yes, I’m missing an arm and a leg, but I have no issue discussing it in some detail, and making a sarcastic remark or two about myself. I drive a car, pay my taxes, have a job, and am fully independent.

For contrast, one of my good friends Mervin takes a mixed approach. He has albinism, which gives him a super pale complexion, and a visual impairment. He used to speed date a lot, and while he’s very comfortable speaking about his disability also, he didn’t always discuss his condition at first sight. Sometimes ladies would ask him about it, because his hair is also more pale than blonde, and only once did he encounter a person who was made uncomfortable by his condition. Unlike me, he doesn’t mention it even subliminally in online profiles.

There is no single right answer for when to disclose, and it’s up to each person to decide how much they accept their disability enough to feel confident, despite having certain obstacles to overcome in life, in career, and in dating.

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Being Successful

We truly hope everybody has a good opportunity to find love. Living with a disability is most often a life-long challenge. Here are a few suggested additions to common courtesy to help you relate to your possible mate:

1- Never ask someone if they have a disability.

2- Remember that opening up enough to discuss something as deeply personal as a disability is a big deal. Be gracious when someone discloses to you.

3- It’s ok to be curious, but be polite. It is ok to ask follow-up questions while being very respectful (and appropriate).

4- Seek to extend understanding and not label someone as “cripple” after you learn they have a disability

Want more? Check out other articles in our Hot & Impaired series!

 


Whitney Harris is a full-time working girl and disability advocate from Tallahassee, Florida. Living life with a physical disability has opened doors for her career and her dating life. If we’re being honest, dating and sharing stories about dating, are two of her favorite hobbies. Whitney is proud to share her experiences on life, love, and disability.
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