Dating and Relationship Advice

Disabled people should feel free to protect themselves from discrimination in the dating world. In general, I have found it helpful to disclose that I have a disability early on in the process of getting to know someone new, specifically as a test for discriminatory attitudes.

Some might think this is bold, but we actually disclose other identities right away—we declare our sexual orientation by stating what gender(s) we’re looking for and our photos can give a clue about our race. Dating with disability should be no different.

It’s deeply upsetting that ableism is so ingrained in our culture that public professions of physical “preferences” and “types” go completely unchallenged, despite the ableism embedded in them. But I would rather know about a potential date’s ableism as soon as possible—before I form any attachment to them—than to begin developing a relationship with a person, only to find out months of wasted time later that they think “accommodations” are for the “weak.”

I still experience pain when such comments are directed at me, or when I'm discarded in favor of an able-bodied person solely based on their lack of disability. But the sting of ableist judgment or rejection is much smaller when you've known the person for an hour versus six months.

Their Reaction is a Dealbreaker

The way potential dates think about disability is as important to me as their thoughts on marriage and children; I like to know these things by the end of the first date, at the very latest. I don’t want to waste anyone's time, and am committed to respecting the amount of energy it takes me to open up to new people.

That doesn’t mean I need to have a DTR talk with a potential date upon first contact, especially if it's in a text. But it does mean I find gentle, sometimes playful ways to gauge someone's attitude about disability as soon as possible. If a walk is suggested for the first date, as is common during these Covid days, I might say, “I get a lot out of being outside, for sure. I also have a rule for myself to respect my body's limitations that I sometimes cannot predict in advance; would you be willing to create a plan B in case I’m not up for a walk the day of?”

Getting Creative with Disclosure

If it fits your personality (as it does mine), you can even get funny about it. One time, a potential date suggested a live concert for our first meeting, which is totally harmless, except that my disability involves sensory overload so I need to be able to control the volume of my environment as much as possible. This means no live music.

I'd already established that I deeply value humor in a relationship, so I laughed as I said, “Oh, live music is against my disability” and then made a suggestion related to music that would work for me. My potential date hesitated to laugh (which I took as a good sign because it indicated a sensitivity to ableism and an effort to read me more carefully), but did so when I indicated it was fine. I happily collaborated with him on planning another option.

Humor holds such high value for me because it can simultaneously set boundaries and show you don't take everything so seriously. You don't have an obligation to accommodate anyone else's feelings about disability, of course—disabled people are asked to accommodate enough in the broader world—but prioritizing learning about potential dates’ relationships to ableism doesn't have to mean stiff, all-business questionings or fire-and-brimstone threats.

The point is that there is no “too early” time to bring this up. If bringing up disability early on (or at all) is “too soon” for someone, they're not your person.