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Why This Season of 'The Bachelor' Is Groundbreaking for the Deaf Community

Monday’s premiere episode of the 25th season of “The Bachelor” was definitely a standout — but not because of the stunts the women pulled as they exited the limo.  One contestant in particular, Abigail Heringer, caught Bachelor Matt James’ eye almost immediately — and she also stood out to the disability community for all the right reasons.

Heringer, 25, gracefully exited the limo in a royal blue evening gown and shared an unexpected fact about herself with James, 29. “There’s something a little bit different about me,” she confessed. “I’m deaf. So I’m going to be reading your lips a lot tonight, but thankfully you have really beautiful lips.” Matt promised that he would “enunciate” for her and uttered, “She is gorgeous” as Abigail walked away.

Heringer continued to charm the “Bachelor” lead in their first full conversation. She shared that her older sister is also deaf and explained that her sister helped “pave the way” for her to accept and open up about her own hearing loss. Abigail and Matt shared the first kiss of the season, and later on in the night, he surprised her by awarding her the coveted First Impression Rose, guaranteeing that she would stay on the show another week.

But Heringer’s immediate chemistry with this season’s Bachelor isn’t what makes her presence on the show so welcome. The way she openly shared about her deafness on national television and Matt James’ completely natural response could stand out to people with disabilities, especially in a landscape where people with health conditions are few and far between.

“The Bachelor” (and its affiliated shows) are known for casting primarily white, thin, able-bodied contestants, so stepping out of that mold is a refreshing, highly necessary change. “Bachelor” contestant alum Sarah Herron, who appeared on Sean Lowe’s 2013 season of the hit reality show, was born with an incomplete left arm and participated in a variety of daring dates during her time on the show, but since then, no contestant has disclosed a disability on the show. Heringer’s appearance on the current “Bachelor” season and her openness about her deafness is the shift towards inclusion that many viewers with disabilities have sought for years.

Seeing sparks fly between a reality show lead and a deaf contestant without any hint of unnecessary pity or discomfort shows the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, as well as the disability community as whole, that they are worthy of love and that finding partners who see disability as just one part of who they are is possible.  Abigail Heringer’s relationship with Matt already seems to be flourishing, and hopefully, the message that disability should never hinder love will continue throughout the season.

Abigail Heringer is “The Bachelor’s” first deaf contestant, the winner of Matt James’ First Impression Rose and possibly the first deaf person people in the deaf community have ever seen on reality TV. Heringer’s clear connection with Bachelor Matt James is a powerful reminder that people with disabilities can find love and acceptance in a partner, especially when they’re “here for the right reasons.”

Image via Instagram.