Andrea Lausell is a queer disabled Boricua & Cubana based in Los Angeles, California. She creates digital content about disability, sex ed, fashion and bringing awareness to her own disability, Spina Bifida.
For the past nineteen years of my life I’ve experienced the highs and lows of dating while disabled. From dating people who have ghosted me because of my disability to inaccessibility of dating apps to finding a partner who took time to learn about my disability, I’ve experienced my fair share of the good and bad. Growing up disabled meant that you were most likely taught that dating wasn’t something to look forward to, that it wasn’t possible. For me, this was something I explicitly was taught by family and doctors alike. As a young person, I loved reading romance manga like Lovely Complex, and watched all of the teen romance movies like What A Girl Wants. While I loved all of these stories, I was very aware that no one looked like me, with a giant scar on their back and was disabled. I had no examples, but for some reason I remained hopeful I would be the lead in my own love story. And I’m happy to say I’ve been the lead in many. Now is the time to share my experiences for everyone of all ages who are disabled and wanting to start dating. Here’s what to expect, how to keep yourself safe, and most importantly how to have fun!
2021 is a whole new ball game for dating while disabled, there are positives and negatives to all the ways to meet someone for a date. Online dating can be simultaneously freeing and accessible for disabled people but terrifying as well. Dating apps are a great way to meet people in your area on your terms. There are a few things to consider when you start dating as a disabled person online:
- Which dating app would be best for you?
- When should you disclose that you are disabled?
- How to prepare for the date & stay safe.
- What to remind yourself before, during and after a date.
Deciding on which dating app to use is crucial.
You want to pick an app that makes you feel as comfortable as possible. If you’re looking for just a hookup, Tinder is a great option. Looking for a long term relationship? I found that Coffee Meets Bagel has been a great place for that. If you’re a disabled woman, the Bumble app is a great one to use as women are the ones who get to message a match first. Most of these apps seem to have the basic accessibility features and for a “disability friendly” dating app, I unfortunately haven’t found one. The best way to make these apps work for you is to be as honest with whomever you’re talking to but most importantly honest with yourself with what you want out of the app you’re choosing.
Create a dating profile that presents who you are.
You can choose if you want to disclose your disability right away or not. Some choose not to disclose right away and highlight the aspects you want people to know. If you decide to disclose right away in your profile, that’s great! It weeds out who wants to be with you and those who may feel hesitant because of internalized ableism. Disclosing in your profile can help ease the mental exhaustion and fear of “is now the right time to tell them?”
Ableism has taught us to hide our disabilities out of shame or burdening the other person. But for many of us, this identity is a big part of who we are and hiding it from a potential partner isn’t fair.
Disclosing right away saves you time of questioning when but also allows you at any time to discuss it further with your match. Waiting to disclose is still a great option, one I do too at times. It can feel a bit safer to feel someone out and how the conversation goes before letting them know a serious topic. Be aware though, this option may lead to people ghosting (leaving you on read and never answering) you. But just remember you have done nothing wrong for them to do that. You are not a burden for talking about yourself and if someone feels that way, swipe right and continue with your search.
How to Keep Your In-Person Date Safe and Accessible
Let’s say you found your match and want to go on an in-person date! That’s amazing and I can’t wait for you to have a great time, but before that, let’s get into some things to keep in mind to prepare for this date to be as safe and accessible as possible. For an in-person date, choose a place that you’re familiar with and is accessible for you. Let your date know as well that you’d like to pick and why. Being upfront and honest is also a great way for your date to see what goes into dating you. This isn’t to mean that dating you is “extra work” because you’re not, it just lets them know that dating you means acknowledging your disability which in turn, keeps you safe. Choose a place yourself or work with your date to find a place you both want to go to that accommodates everyone. On a serious note, dating while disabled can be risky. If you’re dating ableds (people without a disability) there’s always a possibility it can go south. To be prepared for that, let someone you trust know where you’re going on a date, who you’re going on a date with, and what time you expect to be home. If you have an iPhone, you can share your location with your friends. This may seem extra, but safety comes first even when it comes to a first date.
Always remember YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE
Dating can be tough for everyone, it takes a lot of work and even more so when you’re disabled. But it can also be rewarding and fun. Whether you’re dating for the first time or getting back into dating, I want you to remind yourself that you deserve to be happy. We are taught to not expect much, to settle. We are taught no one will love us because we are disabled. But that is not and has never been true. You are deserving of love, you are deserving of being with someone who wants to be with you. Someone who will learn about your disability and know it is not a burden. It may sound cheesy but remind yourself of this every day — before your dates, during your dates and after your dates. It time for you to choose you and be happy and I hope these tips help.