What it’s like to date with a disability



“Do not be fearful of putting yourself out there. You are just as worthy of finding love as the next person. Everyone has their special someone, and you’ll find yours at the right time.”

I’m literally a neuroscientist, and I am finding it challenging to find love. Online dating can already be intimidating and confusing, and even more so for people with disability.

As a 27-year-old living with cerebral palsy who uses dating apps, I’ve definitely experienced that people with disabilities have trouble being seen as potential lovers because of stereotypes perpetuated from media such as Love on the Spectrum.

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While the show shines a light on nuances in the dating lives and relationships of people living with autism spectrum disorder, the reality is vastly different for many people living with all kinds of disabilities.

New research found that three in five people with a disability agree it’s hard to find a romantic partner. A further 81 per cent of us prefer not to mention our disability until it’s referenced in a social setting out of fear of immediate rejection and not even being given a chance.

I’ve been hurt and rejected in my previous relationships because of my disability. Some of the people I loved didn’t care about me or my feelings, disregarding my boundaries and at times making me feel unsafe. It has been a constant healing process, with professional counsellors assisting me to try to overcome these experiences.

What I wish I knew when finding love

All that being said, I’m still so hopeful and I hope the other 4.4 million Australians who identify as having a disability are too. I hope to remember not to be fearful of putting myself out there even with this hurt. I – and you – are just as worthy of finding love as the next person. Everyone has their special someone, and I’ve no doubt I will find mine at the right time.

The first step to normalising able-bodied and disabled people in relationships is to educate them on what it truly means to live with disability and the diverse experiences we have. It’s crucial to reduce bias against people with disability and change people’s attitudes. There is help available to support us with dating, when needed. I engage support workers from Mable to help take me around to dates and move about them confidently.

My support workers support me in these settings, always supporting my date and me to feel comfortable during dates and empowering me to feel independent. While I continue to put myself out there, I wish I knew to be more conscious of the people I dated. I’ve had many challenging moments with people misunderstanding and judging me at face value because I move and speak differently.

This is a shared experience between people with disability on dating apps where we are more susceptible to violence and harassment. So much more needs to be done to make dating platforms safer and more accessible for people with disability to develop relationships.

What to understand when dating people with a disability

We are just like any other person. Date us for ourselves and not to understand our disability. Even more so, we don’t just date other people with disability. Our disability makes us unique and should be understood as another facet of diversity like skin and eye colour. Communication is critical, so don’t hesitate to ask us questions if you’re unsure of something but do take steps to educate yourself and others on accessibility and inclusion for people with disability.

You need to be flexible and supportive and get to know us with an open mind. We are not helpless or struggling, so don’t describe our disabilities as such. There is support available that empowers us to be independent and achieve what we want, such as my PhD degree and taking part in the 2020 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Mentoring Program.

Making dating platforms inclusive

Multiple studies have found that people with disability have similar wants when it comes to dating. However, a lack of support and equal opportunities have prevented meaningful dating experiences. Research has also indicated that more needs to be done in the dating sector for inclusion, where dating platforms can help.

Dating apps are incredibly popular, and these platforms have the opportunity to help create a safe space for people with disabilities using them. It could include featuring people with disability in advertisements, educating users about inclusive behaviours when dating people with disability, or providing personal support for people with disabilities who may need extra assistance in finding love through mentoring and specialist coaching staff.

I hope to find love and make online dating more inclusive, because everyone who wants to find their special someone deserves a safe and comfortable environment to do so.

For more on dating with a disability, try this.

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