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Dating is a part of life that can be exciting and terrifying, all at the same time. I dated in high school and college before my disability, and I'm now here doing it again at 51 years old. Dating with a disability, however, is a whole new level of scary because people with disabilities are already familiar with rejection. There have been many times in my life when able-bodied people have looked at me and only seen the wheelchair, or what they assume I can’t do - and decide I am not dating material.
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I can remember the semester I returned to LSU after I was shot and paralyzed. I saw a guy on campus who had pursued me before my disability. He was a good distance from me and he thought I didn't see him, so he took off in the other direction to avoid talking to me. I was crushed, but even then I knew that said more about him then it did about me. I don’t think he is a bad person for not being able to face me or want to date me. He was young and he likely didn’t know what to say. I can never know all of the reasons he chose to avoid me. What is important is that I was able to forgive him for hurting my feelings and move on. I did not let the experience cause me to shut myself in the house and assume that I would be rejected by all potential mates.

We have to understand that attempting to find love and loving another person requires making yourself vulnerable and opening yourself to potential pain. I can say I have experienced both a lot of pain, and a lot of love - and I don’t regret any of it.

You’re Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea
People may decide that I don't fit the perfect mold they are looking for in a life partner. They may think dealing with a wheelchair is a burden and too much trouble. Having a disability does add extra layers of complexity to planning activities, and makes life a little bit more difficult. Yet, there are so many characteristics of a person to take into consideration when looking for a life partner. It may not even be about your disability, it could be the fact that you have blond hair or you don’t like country music. You should feel good about who you are and what you have to offer in a relationship. In my experience, people who live with a disability are often refined by the struggles they have persevered through. I personally learned so much about myself and others after becoming paralyzed. It made me wiser, more empathetic, and I have an appreciation for life that I gained by having lived through extreme difficulty.

I believe that taving a positive attitude about life is so important. People are attracted to who those who love life. Confidence is another trait that is really attractive. So, it's important to take the steps to make sure you feel great about yourself before you start dating. I know I am worth the extra trouble that my wheelchair causes. I suggest that you write a list of all of your positive attributes and the gifts you have to offer in a relationship. Hold on to that list and read it when you are feeling down. This will help you to stay confident during the process of dating.  Always remember what you have to offer and always remember not to compromise on the attributes that YOU want in a potential partner. I suggest that you try not to judge too harshly if someone decides not to pursue the relationship because of your disability. You may not know their situation, and why they feel the two of you might not be a good fit.

Learn to Love Yourself
Our society often uses the "perfect" people in movies, on television and in magazines. If you hold yourself to entertainment media standards, you would think you are not worthy of love unless you are tall, have a perfect complexion, straight teeth and a fantastic body. Even able-bodied people feel less than worthy of love when they hold themselves to these unrealistic standards. There are also many misconceptions about people with disabilities being perpetuated by entertainment media. For example, often the happy ending for a person with a disability is a miraculous recovery from paralysis.

Most of my life I have been married or in a serious relationship. In the beginnings of those relationships, it required me to explain how I do things and how others can assist me. It’s a slow process to see if the potential partner is okay with the extra assistance you might need to get around. As each date comes up, you can explain what the other person can do to help you. If you are dating someone who has never been around a person with a disability, you can teach them what you need. The new person might be afraid to offend you by asking. I don’ make my disability the focus of conversation, but I’m always willing to answer questions and teach them about any help I might need.  I wait to talk about a very personal subject like intermittent catheterization and bowel protocol unless they ask. I think that generally speaking nobody should talk about how they use the bathroom early in a relationship! I don't want to know anything about a potential boyfriend’s bathroom habits, possibly ever. If you are completely comfortable with your body and the way it works you can also put others at ease eventually. If you do need assistance with activities of daily living, try not to make your potential lover your caregiver. I know that is not always possible, but it does sometimes change the dynamics of the relationship.

As I have grown to embrace my disability over the years, I have gained self-confidence, and love the person I am. Loving yourself and knowing that you are okay by yourself is key to any successful relationship Everyone needs to know who they are and be content alone before they can be in a happy relationship. As I previously mentioned, take an inventory of the qualities you bring to a relationship, writing down a list of all of your positive attributes. I think sometimes people with disabilities think they have to settle for someone less than ideal because they are not as desirable as an able-bodied person. Remember that you are a catch and if others don't see that, it’s their loss. Don’t compromise your core values for a relationship either. Sacrificing who you are for a relationship is not fair to you or the other person. Again, make a list of the attributes that you want in a significant other and a list of your deal-breakers. There is no such thing as a perfect significant other, but don't compromise anything on the list of qualities that are important to you. Since it's easy to lose yourself in those initial feelings of infatuation, my advice is to take it slow and make sure to spend time alone during the dating process. Dating is a way to learn about what you want in a significant other, so even if it doesn’t work out, dating isn’t a waste of time. The right person who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated, is worth waiting for. 
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Dating Online
Dating Online is common for people of all ages these days. One great thing about online dating is that you get to choose your pictures and what you write about your best attributes. I like to make sure my disability is visible so it’s not a surprise to anyone that might be interested in my profile. I suggest using pictures that show you in and out of your wheelchair. Prospective dates must know that you have a disability, but you also want them to see that you as a person are seperate from your wheelchair. When I write about myself I try to focus on the things people can’t see in photos, like my personality and interests. At some point in getting to know each other potential partners might ask about sex. This is a sensitive and personal topic, and you may want to consider ahead of dating new people how you will answer. Click here to read my recent blog on Sexuality and Disability. 

Safety
Staying safe while dating is a concern for everyone, but even more so if you have a disability. If someone takes my wheelchair from me, or even moves it across the room, I’m in big trouble. There are definitely scammers and predators out there hiding behind fake profiles so here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:
  1. Ask for the person's full name and do a Google search of them. You can also use an app to do a background check for a small fee. It might feel a little creepy, but it's important to know the person is who they say they are. Make sure you give this information to a friend or family member before you go out on a physical date.
  2. Take a screenshot of their pictures and use Google reverse image search. This can help you to find out if they are using someone else’s pictures or using a fake name.
  3. Spend time getting to know the person over the phone. The next step should be a video chat with your potential date where you can make sure they are the person they are presenting themselves to be. Video chat is a great way to prevent being “catfished”.
  4. Choose a public location to meet. I like to choose a place where I know a few people that work there. This will make you feel more comfortable for the first couple of dates.
  5. Drive yourself or get dropped off on your first couple of dates. Take some time to get to know this person before you give them your address.
  6. It’s important to protect your identity, so don’t give this new person any personal information like date of birth or where you work for a while. 
  7. Use a Google Voice phone number in the beginning. If the person turns out to be a creep, it's better if they don't have your cell phone number.
  8. Don't drink too much alcohol. It's important to stay alert and in control, especially when out with a person you don't know.
  9. Carry pepper spray, just in case!
  10. Follow your gut instincts. If you get an uncomfortable feeling, make an excuse, stop communicating, or leave in the middle of the date if necessary. You have no obligation to stay or worry about hurting their feelings. Roll away if it doesn’t feel right.

Dating Apps for People with Disabilities
There are dating apps specifically for people with disabilities listed below. You might be more comfortable meeting people that you know can relate to your situation. The site caters to people that have all different types of disabilities, and able bodied people who are interested in someone with a disability.  
  1. Glimmer
  2. Whispers4u
  3. DisabledPassions
  4. SpecialBridge

People with disabilities live full, happy, and productive lives - and many want a life partner. However, it takes putting yourself out there to meet someone special. Remember, when you find the right person, they will love you for who you are, and not care how you navigate the world. - instead, they will want to navigate the world with you!
Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador

Author

Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador

Karen Roy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 20 years of experience. Most of that time was spent as a Case Manager for an in-patient rehabilitation hospital. She was the victim of an armed robbery in 1987 and has been a wheelchair user for the last 31 years. She had 3 kids after her injury. Caroline, Austin and Joseph are all in currently attending college. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 Karen’s platform was “Stand for Life”. Her platform is about the use of standing technology and other devices that improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities.