Published on June 19th, 2014 | by Veryflirt0
To Boldly Go – Online Dating for People with Disabilities
Do you dream of meeting your soulmate online? Have you been perusing every website that ends in dating.com in the hopes of making some connections? Millions of men and women the world over have transformed what used to be a quirky endeavour into a multi-million dollar enterprise that truly helps men and women, straight or gay, young, middle aged, or senior to meet a terrific, and often, life-long partner. But, as a woman with a disability who has been on a few of these sites to attract my own life-partner, I have found one constant thread amidst all the posts and pictures. For the most part, people seem to focus on the words “fit and healthy”. Irrespective of age, today people who seek partners online are probably no different than people outside of cyberspace. Fitness and good health are prized qualities. Our society promotes them. People want to look like the myriads of commercials they see on television, in magazines, and online. We want to look and feel good.
The world of virtual dating is a treasure trove and a mine field. There are hundreds of dating sites to choose from; people who love pets, people who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or hold other spiritual beliefs, socially conscious singles, people devoted to yoga, people who meditate, and almost every kind of configuration your imagination can create. There are, of course, dating sites for people with disabilities. As a woman with a disability it’s a difficult choice to make. Do I limit myself only to possible partners with disabilities, or do I tread into murky waters and try to meet a non-disabled partner?
Dating sites always give potential members a range of choices designed to make it easier to meet someone. The challenge in the virtual environment is that online dating sites create a visual arena not a cerebral one. Of course, many men and women of all ages seek more than just an attractive/sensual partner. Not all of us hope to meet Captain Kirk in a tight t-shirt and stretch pants, or Lt. Uhura in her daring, short dress. Still, once we go online there is one thing everyone goes for first – the photographs. Everyone wants to see what their potential partner looks like. We all size each other up, and it doesn’t much matter whether you’re on a site for Jewish singles or for singles who love the environment. Everyone susses out the best-looking matches first. We’re drawn to what we perceive of as exciting, beautiful, and interesting. The subtle shades and nuances of a person’s personality are deferred for when we meet in person.
So what to do if someone has a disability? Should someone declare a disability up front? Does a person pose in a terrific outfit, and wear a great smile and show themself sitting in a wheelchair? Or, perhaps people need to paint their mobility aids in sharp, neon colors, and dress their guide dogs in cool “paw-wear”. Is it better to avoid the topic altogether? What are people supposed to do when they have a disability and want to meet their soul-mate in an environment that focuses on physical beauty and fitness perfection? Sure, some people say they’re okay with it, but the reality is quite different.
A brief bit of time on the web shows there are a number of dating sites that have cropped up specifically for people with disabilities. As an added incentive, the sites are open to “Positive for Disabled” as members. Honestly, I’m not sure what that means. Does this mean it’s actually okay to have a disability, or does it mean that I too can meet someone who is non-disabled? Perhaps this is a bit cheeky. Still, dating sites for people with disabilities is a bit of a double-edged sword.
For centuries, people with disabilities have suffered from extreme segregation. Many were put into asylums and shut away so that their “suffering” wouldn’t have to be seen by the people. Modern times offers a much better life – terrific technology, accessible transit (in some places), integrated schools and programs, famous people with disabilities as role models, and events like the Paralympics which demonstrates the abilities of extraordinary athletes with physical differences. However, let’s be honest – there is still discrimination out there, and stigmas concerning certain types of disabilities exist especially for persons with mental illness.
What is it then that we want from a dating site? I understand the concept of a site designed to make it easier for us to meet other people. Yet, I balk at the notion that we should be relegated to such sites because the only suitable partner is another person with a disability. But, when I think back to my own experience on major online dating sites, I don’t recall even one profile mentioning a disability of any kind. Can you imagine someone saying they have schizophrenia which is controlled by medication and they want an understanding partner? I don’t know if that would fly on eHarmony, Match, or Jdate.
Here’s the dilemma. People have the right to seek the partner of their choice. If they want someone who’s fit and healthy, then that’s the person they should try and find. But, if we don’t fight for true integration in our society, then it will never happen for us. While we can’t force people to be accepting of a potential partner with a disability, sites can somehow find a way to encourage people of all backgrounds to be comfortable there. How do we accomplish this? I suggest that when people go online to meet a partner, they should be free to be themselves. Try different sites. Seek out a site that enables you to be who you are. Allow others to see you as you want to be seen. When enough people do this perhaps the small changes will begin and larger changes will follow. My belief is people need to recognize that having a disability is another challenge in life – and we all have these, whether we want to, or not.