My Dating Advice for People With Physical Disabilities

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Dating can be difficult for everyone at one time or another. Disability or not, finding a date, asking for a date, and actually going out on a date can be stressful. What do you do when you have a disability and want to date? Should you just forget about it and move on single for the rest of your life? No! You can get yourself together, create a goal and follow your dreams no matter what people say or what self-doubt is in your mind.

I would be lying to you if I said dating is easy when you have a disability. It’s not. It can be awkward, disappointing and plain old frustrating! However, I believe nothing worth having in life comes easy. I will offer my own advice based on my own personal experiences and observations. But I can’t tell you my experiences will be exactly like yours or you will feel how I felt. I’m hoping I can encourage you to follow your heart and own life path.

Who are you besides having a disability? What do you like and dislike? Who are you attracted to and why? Are you happy? Whatever you answer, keep it real and honest. Lying about these things will only hurt you in the end. By knowing your genuine self and personality, you are more likely to find someone who is right for you. Happiness comes from within. You can’t expect a partner to make you happy and maintain your happiness. Be happy on your own, and then you know you’re ready to make the next steps.

Cerebral palsy and many other physical disabilities are noticeable no matter what you do. I felt frustrated when guys looked at me and saw my wheelchair instead of my figure. I also felt annoyed at my cerebral palsy because when I felt attracted to someone, my spasms would react to my emotions. How embarrassing, right? But all of this came from my perspective and not theirs. They didn’t know my body in the first place, so if I seemed more spastic, they didn’t know any better. And if I felt good about my appearance, people noticed that way before they noticed my wheelchair.

I concentrated on my appearance and style. Focusing on your appearance doesn’t mean you need to spend lots of money to keep up with the newest trends. It means to make sure you’re happy when you look in the mirror. I also concentrated on having my own hobbies, friends, and life. Being busy and focused on goals are attractive qualities, but more importantly, they are great for your own self-esteem and worth. It’s not healthy to depend on someone else for all your happiness.

When someone shows interest in you, it can be exciting, awesome, thrilling and happy. Let yourself feel all of these emotions. Keep in check how you feel as well. Whatever you do, don’t stay with someone purely because they accept your disability. Trust me, there are many people out there who will love you for being you. Don’t use your disability to stay in the wrong relationship.

Be as honest about your disability as you feel comfortable. It was difficult for me at first to talk about cerebral palsy with a potential date because it almost felt like I was talking about something taboo, or I thought he’d be turned off immediately. But through dating experiences, I learned that the more they understood, they better could focus on who I was as a person and not just a disability.

Unfortunately, nothing can shelter you from heartbreak, disability or not. A guy broke up with me after a few months simply because I couldn’t walk on the beach. Of course it hurt my feelings. However, I picked myself up and moved forward. It might take time, even years, to find someone who fits you, but do not settle. You can find the right partner if that’s your goal. Think of dating like a job interview. The more you go on, the better you are and the more you learn.

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To People With Disabilities Who Wonder If They Belong

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Last year, I found myself having a conversation with someone who was not knowledgeable about people with disabilities. They were shocked that I was in college, because I have low vision, and kept asking me why I “took the opportunity away from a sighted person to attend this college.” I was in a bit of shock, and explained that I had attended public school just like them and I took classes in the general education system. I even pointed out that I was in the engineering department, something I don’t often mention to people I have just met. They didn’t seem to care and kept insisting I was robbing others of educational opportunities. I dropped the topic and walked away.

Earlier today, my friend had a near-identical conversation with someone who claimed students with disabilities shouldn’t even go to public school, let alone go to college, because it would be impossible for them to accomplish anything. My friend came to me depressed, as they had taken the words of a complete stranger to heart. I don’t know the exact circumstances leading up to this conversation, but I want to remind anyone who has ever felt discouraged after these types of conversations of this:

You belong.

You are a person with a disability. You are human, and the disability is something you have, not who you are. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, just a component of the person you are.

You can attend public school and receive accommodations thanks to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has been around for over 40 years. It lets you be in the least restrictive environment for your learning, meaning you have the right to be in the classroom if that’s where you function best. And you also have the right to receive services that help you learn, such as large print, Braille, extra time on tests, and so much more.

You can go to college thanks to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, which prevents discrimination based on disability. Your college helps you succeed by giving you a disability services file, and you are held to the same standards as other students. You are not stealing opportunities from other students because you have a disability.

You can go anywhere. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 requires accessible transportation and buildings, as well as many other things. Title II also grants workplace and post-secondary disability accommodations. I joke that the only jobs I can’t hold are taxi driver and brain surgeon, but thanks to this law, I can be a software engineer or work in an assistive technology lab, or whatever else I want.

The world won’t always be an accommodating place. There are flashing lights everywhere, a lot of things are in small print, and my cane gets stuck in the sidewalk a lot. However, don’t let that be discouraging. There is still so much to explore and to accomplish, and there are laws to make sure no one can stop you from living life the same way as a person without a disability.

The world may seem a bit scary right now, and it’s OK to admit that. But don’t think for a moment that people with disabilities don’t belong in it. Albert Einstein had dyslexia and became one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. Stephen Hawking uses AAC to deliver mind-blowing theories about the world around us. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles didn’t let blindness stop them from creating music. And of course, there are people like Helen Keller, Christopher Reeve, Edward Roberts, and so many more who helped to advocate for people like them who lived with disabilities. Without these people, our world wouldn’t be the same.

So remember, next time someone tells you that people with disabilities should be anywhere but where you are right now:

You belong.

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'The Courage to Be Kind' Teaches Kids About Disability and Inclusion

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Rena Rosen knows what it feels like to be stared at, and it’s a feeling she doesn’t want other children or adults to have to experience.

“When I was growing up, my family and my community treated me with kindness. However the greater community did not react in the same way, and eventually my smile and wave stopped working with each stare and each comment,” Rosen, who grew up with a facial difference, told The Mighty. “I had always wished there was a book that accurately portrayed physical differences in a kid-friendly way while also addressing the needs of the parents and educators as how to facilitate conversations and promote positive inclusion and interactions.”

To fill this void, Rosen and her friend Jenny Levin, both educators, co-wrote “The Courage to Be Kind,” an illustrated children’s book that educates kids about a number of different physical differences including Apert syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Tourette syndrome, alopecia, birthmarks and dwarfism.

The book features comic strips that teach children how to interact with people with disabilities or differences – namely, not to point, stare or be rude. “Children notice differences in a very natural and curious way. At times a child may say something that could sound blunt when in actuality they are doing so with complete honesty and a yearning to understand,” Rosen, who runs workshops about treating others with compassion, explained.

Instead of “shushing” children when they ask questions or point, Rosen said it’s important to explain why pointing and staring is rude, and promote inclusion instead. Speaking from her own personal experience, Rosen said it’s better to approach someone with curiosity and kindness than it is to ignore them or be rude:

At home a parent can explain that all people have differences, while some are more noticeable than others and use their best judgment as to how to explain that particular difference in the most honest but age-appropriate way.

Rosen and Levin’s book also features informational pages that give an overview of each condition and show photographs of children with each difference or disability. “Labels are meant for objects and categories of things, not people,” she said. “We all have such a variety of abilities and differences. It is important to remember that their is a person behind a facial difference or a disability.”

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What My Dad Taught Me About Judging Others' Disabilities

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On December 4, my dad passed away suddenly after a moderately short battle with a chronic illness. The week of Thanksgiving, my family was told he was in complete organ failure. His body was filling with fluids released by his liver; his hernias had shifted and fluid was going into his lungs. We knew he was not going to be with us for more than a year, but were not prepared when he fell, causing his body to shut down. He died quickly, and I’m thankful he did not have to suffer more than he already had.

In reflecting on my dad’s illness and the effects it had on his body, I realized I’d made quite a few mistakes during his last year – especially within the months leading up to his death. When people see me park in disability parking, it is obvious when I get out of my van that I’m honestly, legitimately and legally permitted to park there. When I use designated stalls in restrooms, no one questions my necessity for those accommodations. My illness and my disability are not invisible. Rather, they are glaring and direct.

My dad, however, did not use adaptive mobility equipment until one month prior to his passing. At the end, he had trouble walking and required the use of a rollator. Before that, when he’d park in a designated spot, here is what people saw: an obese man with no clear physical limitations walking into an establishment. There were times, early on, that I (embarrassingly enough) bristled when I saw him park in disability parking. Before knowing what was wrong with my dad, I thought he used obesity as the criterion to gain certain accommodations. I hate that I thought these things and am loathe to admit them, but am sharing in hopes that someone who reads this will better understand my overall point.

My dad was actually not obese. He had several large abdominal hernias and as I’ve previously stated, his body was filling with fluid. If a person were to look at his face, arms, legs and neck, it would be obvious that he was in fact thin. The “weight” he carried was solely in his torso. Furthermore, to a stranger it may have seemed that he walked just fine. But those of us around him watched helplessly as each step caused his breathing to become more and more labored due to the fluid build-up in his lungs.

There are times when people make assumptions about what it means to “look sick.” Assumptions are also made about what qualifies as a “disability.” I’ve heard people grumble about “that heavy-set woman using the accessible stall” or “the fat man who just needs to lose weight so he won’t be disabled.” Those exact thoughts haven’t come into my head, but I’ve already admitted that I myself, as a member of the disabled community (and one who doesn’t need to carry a membership card since I’m rolling along through life) have also wondered why a seemingly healthy and able-bodied individual is using a space or stall or other modification meant for “us.” This is plain prejudice, I admit. It’s stereotyping, generalizing, assuming and jumping to conclusions about things I have no right to nor expertise in!

Whether you are chronically ill, disabled or healthy and able-bodied, I ask that we all cease to pass judgments on people who use services for the disability community. There’s usually a lot more to the person’s story than their body is able to convey to our untrained eyes.

Lylly's father Rob Sasser.

In Loving Memory of my dad, Rob Sasser, who taught me a lot, even when he didn’t know it. May 12, 1952-December 4, 2016

Follow this journey on Modified Mama.

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To 'Normal' Americans, From a Woman With a Disability

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Dear “normal” Americans,

Disabled… I can clearly remember the first time someone called me this. That word stung; it cut deeply within my soul. I didn’t want to be disabled. Growing up in American culture, those with disabilities are often frowned upon. Others assume we are not able to have an impact on our communities. That we need assistance with every little task.

Such a mindset can bring pain and heartache to the disability community. We, the disabled, are the largest minority group within America. Let our voice be heard. I know many of you may not know the culture of disability, and I wish to impart the lessons I have learned from being in a wheelchair for the past four years.

1. I don’t want to be a project. I want to help and bless my community.

2. Allow my voice to be heard. If I say something, please listen.

3. Allow me to ask for help. This may seem strange, yet allow me to have the dignity of asking. If I need help with my wheelchair, I will ask. If I need assistance picking up the pen I dropped, allow me to ask for help.

4. Don’t assume I am doing well because I am walking. Please don’t ask me why I am walking one day and using my chair the next. Living with a chronic illness, sometimes I feel wonderful and other times I barely have the strength to pull myself out of bed. Yet the position of my body does not change my sickness. So just don’t ask. If I want to share why I am walking or how my sickness is affecting my body, I will tell you.

5. Just be my friend. I am human. I want to be loved for being me and for being nothing less.

Thank you for your time,
Eliza

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Thinkstock photo by Halfpoint.

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How You Can Help Me, a Person With Selective Mutism

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Selective mutism is a disorder preventing someone from speaking in at least one social situation.

Symptoms of selective mutism include:

  • incapable of speaking in social situations
  • withdrawal
  • no or little facial expressions
  • avoiding eye contact
  • stiff movements
  • isolating
  • worrying more than most people their age
  • difficulty expressing feelings
  • fear of social embarrassment
  • social anxiety

My name is Alysia. I have had selective mutism all my life. I have faced many challenges in this time. The most difficult thing I have had to deal with is people who do not understand. From teachers and students to “professionals.” I have been told/forced to speak on numerous occasions. Here are a few things someone has said to me:

“Has the cat got your tongue?”

“Are you lethargic?”

“Are you lazy?”

“You need to get tougher skin.”

“Do you not understand English?”

“Just say one word.”

“How are you going to get from point A to point B if you don’t speak?”

“If I do the chicken dance, you will have to speak to me.”

“If you are a lonely character, let’s put you in a corner.”

“Hi… Oh, I forgot, you don’t talk.”

And many more.

Situations where I get forced to speak are uncomfortable and upsetting. Therefore, I ask you to have full understanding of this condition to decrease the amount of times a selectively mute person is put in this situation.

Here’s how to help me as a person with selective mutism:

  • do not force me to speak
  • stay calm around me
  • do not talk about my anxieties/struggles in public
  • include me in activities
  • treat me as you would if I didn’t have this condition
  • don’t ignore me
  • ask me indirect questions that don’t require verbal speech
  • if there is a verbal response, don’t make a big deal of it
  • never give up on me because one day I will feel able to speak to you; do not rush me!

Knowledge and understanding are necessary. Let’s raise awareness of selective mutism!

Get informed, educate yourself and tell someone about it.

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Thinkstock photo by Kuzma

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