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The Challenges I've Faced Using Dating Apps With a Disability

In 2017, charity Scope reported that 85 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 with a disability felt lonely, and that one in eight adults with a disability had under half an hour of daily interaction with someone else. Statistics like this support the reasoning why disabled people regularly delve into the world of online dating — because physically getting out in an often inaccessible world to meet people in person is so difficult.

I recently started online dating again after a break-up in a long-term relationship a year and a half ago. I downloaded two apps (one after the other, I’m not that keen) Bumble and Hinge. Both of these, I’d say, were targeted at my age range (25) and I was hoping I would be successful, or at least get a nice coffee out of it.

I disclose my disability online. In my pictures, I often put one photo of myself in my wheelchair amidst others, but I soon realized it majorly influences potential matches. I’ve had this issue in person too. I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user and I can walk short distances when I’m having a good day. If I walk into a pub, I will have guys chat to me. Yes, being a 6’1″ model, most of the questions are “how tall are you?” but it’s better than nothing. But, if I go in my wheelchair… nothing. Maybe the occasional sympathy pat on the head.

I soon realized a lot of people were put off by my wheelchair when I compared my number of people interested in me to my able-bodied friend. Nevertheless, I persisted as my disability is part of me, so I thought I would make the effort with my few “matches.”

I spoke to a guy for a couple of weeks and we agreed to meet up. He suggested we go for a walk after going for a coffee, but, I mentioned I’d be bringing my wheelchair and he blocked me. Another guy I spoke to opened up the conversation by asking if everything still works “down there” (don’t worry, he was unmatched straight away). That was just the start of the constant stream of messages making my disability feel like a problem.

The issue of whether to disclose my disability due to messages like the above isn’t the only concern. Disabled women were almost twice as likely to have experienced sexual assault in the last year. With the risks of online dating already high, I do worry about vulnerable disabled people on apps like this. I feel like we are easy targets for someone to troll and that could be potentially distressing.

So, am I going to continue online dating? With caution. I have spoken to a few nicer people who have put my faith back into humanity, but I’m definitely aware of the (extra) potential vulnerability a disabled person can have online and will do so with care.