The reality of looking for love with a disability
The world of dating can be difficult for many to navigate, but for those with disabilities, the experience can be even more disheartening, or downright dangerous.
And with 4.4 million Aussies identifying as having a disability, that’s a lot of people who could potentially be looking for love!
So how do we make dating more accessible and inclusive?
Not quite like TV
Jerusha Mather, a 27-year-old neuroscientist who is living with cerebral palsy, says her experience looking for love hasn’t been as great as it seems on TV shows like Love on the Spectrum.
“The reality of dating is unique for each person with a disability,” Jerusha tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Through my own experiences, I feel that people with disabilities have trouble being seen as potential lovers due to stereotypes and misconceptions about disability and what it can be like to live with one.”
Jerusha, a fierce advocate for those with disability, says that new research from Mable.com.au found that 3 in 5 people with a disability agree it's hard to find a romantic partner.
“A further 81% of us prefer not to mention our disability until it's referenced in a social setting for fear of immediate rejection and not even being given a chance,” Jerusha explains.
“I'm excelling in my career, pursuing my PhD and participating in the 2020 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Mentoring Program.
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“However, my passion, independence and intelligence have been overlooked in some of my previous relationships because of my disability.
“As a result, I've been hurt and rejected by people I've loved, who have at times disregarded my boundaries and made me feel unsafe.”
Dating someone with disability
Jerusha says disability is not and should not be considered an obstacle in romantic relationships.
“Our disability makes us unique and is just another reason we are different to the next person. Date us for ourselves, and not to understand our disability.
“We don't expect you to know everything, 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.”
Jerusha says people with disability are often not helpless or struggling, so don't describe them as such.
“Instead, you need to be flexible and supportive, and get to know us with an open mind, which is the first step in normalising relationships between people with disability and those without one.”
Making dating apps inclusive and accessible
“Multiple studies have found that people with disability have similar wants when it comes to dating, and that indicates that more needs to be done in the dating sector for inclusion,” Jerusha says.
“Dating platforms have the opportunity to help create a safe space for people with disabilities using them. Currently, a lack of support and equal opportunities has prevented meaningful dating experiences.”
Jerusha notes that popular apps could be updated to feature people with disability in advertisements, educate users about inclusive behaviour when dating people with disability, or offer personal support for people with disabilities who may need extra assistance in finding love through mentoring and specialist coaching staff.
“There is also a shared experience between people with disability on dating apps where we are more susceptible to violence and harassment,”Jerusha explains, “Therefore, it is crucial to make dating platforms better to ensure that everyone can feel safer, and so these platforms are more accessible for people with disability to develop relationships.”
Jumping into the dating pool
Although she’s been burned before, Jerusha is philosophical when it comes to dating and relationships, and has some sound advice.
“While I continue to put myself out there, I wish I knew to be more conscious of the people I dated,” she warns.
“I've had bad experiences, but great ones as well; be sure to invest your time in people who genuinely care for you.
“Support is available that empowers us to be independent and achieve what we want. For example, I engage support workers from Mable to help take me to dates and move about them confidently.
“My support workers help my date and I to feel comfortable during dates and empower me to feel independent.
“So for people with disability looking for love, do not fear 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!”
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