Hot & Impaired: Accomo-Dating Courtships
Dating is tough, like REALLY tough. So tough in fact, countless books and self-help gurus want to give you the secret formula to finding a great mate. There’s definitely smarter ways to go about it, but the best thing we can do is put forth an earnest effort to show our honest selves, and hope that resonates with someone. For many of us living with a disability, the challenges of finding a mate don’t stop after we’ve found someone who laughs at our jokes. The process of wooing and courtship is a dance on a tightrope, and it feels a lot different when you’re already dealing with some major life challenges.
Dating App Quarrels:
So, what do you think about all these apps? We all know the dating apps are sticking around for a while. No matter if you love or hate them, many who are or have been single since the turn of the century, have found their way onto an app at some point. For me and my fellow friends with disabilities, some apps are more fitting than others. Fully-blind individuals– for example– don’t care much for Tinder or Bumble. Those apps rely so much on showing you images of your potential matches, leaving way less room for questions or bio’s. As helpful as a guide-dog can be, it won’t be able to help you figure out whether to swipe left or right.
Mobile applications of all kinds (not just dating apps) are said to be “accessible.” Differently-abled users can interact with the app by using screen-readers or assistive devices. Needless to say that Tinder is not nearly as fun when you have several extra taps before Siri reads the witty two-liner in a potential match’s bio. However, despite needing some creative work-arounds, we find ways to work through the menus, try every app that comes out, and put some thought into our search.
Inclusion and accommodations are sometimes tough to get in real life– apps being a sore reflection of that fact, at times. And while they have dating apps/sites tailored to a specific audience, like Farmersonly.com, or Christian Mingle, apps for the differently-abled community are almost non-existent. I myself have tried a couple of the available communities, and sadly, the experience was even more underwhelming than the “regular” apps.
Let’s Talk Strategy:
Using the tools and options we do have available, everyone has a different strategy. I present with albinism (light hair, very pale skin), but unless you were familiar with that condition before we met, it’s unlikely you would have suspected me anything other than “ginger”. On my online dating profiles, I show my face, with and without sunglasses, I don’t use a white cane or a guide dog, and I do not mention anything about my impairment in my bio. I very rarely get asked if I am ‘albino’, and have had modest success on the apps this way.
My personal philosophy has been to approach everyone differently when it comes to “disclosing” my visual impairment. Sometimes I’ll talk about it before the first date, or sometimes on the third. Whenever the conversation arises, it’s always with a comfortable, positive, and open-book approach to the topic. This whole article is sharing a lot in itself, I certainly wouldn’t shy away from a few questions on a date….or even on a “speed” date.
To Disclose, or not to Disclose:
A friend with a different disability however, has even more of a “full disclosure” approach. She doesn’t shy away from showing her missing arm on any of her profile pictures, and even mentions it on her bio. People living with disabilities can self-impose stigma and complexes around their life situations. But with some work and growth, we can break out of that negative mindset and feel attractive, sexy, and confident in our own bodies. She is as honest and at ease discussing her disability with me, as she is with a newfound love interest. On occasion, she and I have both needed to address ignorance head-on with new friends. “Disability Sensitivity” as the subject is called, is the very awareness we’re working to show you with this column.
Other visually impaired individuals I know would rather avoid talking about their disability altogether until they know the person better. One of them doesn’t appear to be visually impaired and would rather coast for as long as he can, until the young woman asks why he’s holding his phone so close to his face. That’s when he discloses, still with reluctance. We all embrace our disability to different extents, and he’s not wrong to hang on to that information until later– that’s just how he lives with his condition.
Alright, so what about when dating goes well!? You met someone, and now you’re going out on the town to do some activities, which may involve some creativity…right?
“The zoo was one of our first formal dates” Susan tells me. “I remember I kept pointing out exhibits to him, come to find out later he couldn’t see anything I was telling him about. He just played right along…because he was such a wonderful man.” She doesn’t have any vision issues, but Matt does. Like Matt, I’m guilty of ‘playing-along’ on a date, even today. Places like museums, treacherous hiking trails, or even walking around a new part of Manhattan can be a little touch-n-go for me, but I’ll play the part.
Conditions with more ominous symptoms can also be tricky around dating. A good friend presents with Tourette Syndrome: a condition that causes verbal or muscle tics (spasms). She likes to disclose early in a date before any unpredictable flare of muscle tics distracts from an otherwise successful dinner. For the most part though, she’s able to manage her condition, and when symptoms arise, her partner is understanding.
Don’t Hate, Accomo-Date:
The accommodations needed to transfer to-and-from a wheelchair to bed, hold hands and alternate leading the way, or extending a listening ear if depression is surging, are hardly reasons NOT to date someone. It’s part of connecting with each other on a truly deep level, which leads to looking far past the supposed ‘inconveniences’. After getting to know someone, I’ve lived the sincere heartwarming moments of my partner forgetting the fact I couldn’t see well as she does. It makes for some awkwardly hysterical stories of how I grabbed the wrong person’s arm, gave her wrong directions, or got in the wrong car.
You might know couples who embody what it means to love someone unconditionally, and there are a few in this community who want to share their stories. We’re working to bring you more in-depth accounts from real life successes and challenges of people living with Cerebral Palsy, Blindness, Dwarfism, Macular Degeneration… Almost every chronic (ongoing) condition! Couples and individuals, married, single, and anywhere in between, who are not only surviving, they’re thriving.
Mervin Hernandez is a professional and graduate student living in NYC. He is a person with albinism who loves to share his and others’ experience in living life to the fullest. Be on the lookout for more posts for the Hot & Impaired!
(For the visually impaired: an audio file!)