For disability community, dating comes with unique challenges

For disability community, dating comes with unique challenges

Dating while disabled comes with a unique set of challenges. It’s something Jacquline Child, 28, knows all too well as she deals with chronic illness. She and her sister Alexa Child, 32, hope to combat stigma with their new dating app Dateability . By and for the disabled community, and launching Oct. 21, might it help bridge some gaps?

“We really want the majority of users to be disabled or chronically ill, but we understand that there are able-bodied people, non-disabled people who are totally fine dating a disabled person,” Jacqueline says. “You can be friends with a disabled person. So why wouldn’t you date someone who’s disabled?”

The app includes classic “swipe” options left to right, but also “x” and “❤️” buttons to press if swiping proves difficult for a user. You can also peruse a checklist and indicate whether you are neurodivergent, immunocompromised or have a chronic illness, for example.

Jacqueline, who lives in Denver with her sister, struggled with dating after college. “I always felt like I had to disclose right away, or they would present something that I couldn’t do, whether that’s go on a hike or go skiing, and I also felt by not revealing when it was relevant that I was hiding something big about myself,” she says.

When Jacquline needed a feeding tube about a year ago, Alexa panicked for her sister, including her dating prospects.

“How is anyone ever going to understand that you don’t eat three meals a day,” she wondered, “that you’re hooked up to a tube at night, that’s where you get all your nutrients while you sleep.”

One such general dating app experience: Jacqueline was once recovering from hip surgery when a Bumble match asked her on a date . Sure, why not – or so she thought.

The conversation went like this:

Jacquline: “Hey, sure I can go sit in the park, if you’d like.”

Potential date: “Oh, what’d you do to injure yourself?”

Jacqueline: “Oh, I just have a connective tissue disorder.”

Potential date: “Oh, well, you better not plan on having kids if it’s genetic. Don’t want to pass that on to your kids. That’d be so selfish.”

Jacqueline reported her experience with the man who asked about her genetics to Bumble; they took him off the app and sent her flowers. Still, she logged off for good.

Those living with disabilities are frequently denied fundamental elements of well-being – visibility, agency, dignity. The cultural denial of their sexuality, disability activists say, is another feature of their dehumanization.

Jacqueline’s experience is not unique. Dating apps haven’t been a great fit for fellow disabled people Lawrence Ross, 34, and Kayla Rodriguez, 25.

Ross, who is blind, says he wrote to some 200 people using eHarmony several years ago and landed zero dates. The Kansas resident can’t pinpoint this to his blindness, but certainly felt discouraged by the service. So much so that he has zero interest in using a dating app again – even one disability-minded – and would rather meet people in person.

“I’ve been burned by online dating so many times that I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter to me what they’re offering, it doesn’t matter to me how disabled-friendly the site is, I’m not going to be throwing more money away at something that is not going to work out in the long run,” Ross says. Dateability is free, but Ross still feels even a free app wouldn’t be worth his time at this point.

Plus, “disabled people shouldn’t just only date other disabled people,” says Rodriguez, co-chair of the advisory board for the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network and social media coordinator for the Foundation for Divergent Minds . She dipped her proverbial toe into the Hiki app – for autistic singles – but couldn’t find a connection there, nor could she on other dating apps. She is sad but hopeful she’ll meet someone.

While not the first dating app for disabled people, Dateability aims to cut down on the stigma disabled people may experience while looking for love.

“It’s a safe space where people can safely and not awkwardly disclose their conditions and not feel that pressure of even having to,” Jacquline adds. The app will also include the ability to report abuse.

Jacquline acknowledges the uphill battle that is finding love but encourages people to try and try again. “You might find that it takes some swipes to get your connections, but just give it a shot and be patient with us as a growing app,” she says.