Alex Ghenis, who lives with quadriplegia, is California-based journalist who writes on disability issues related to environmental justice, economic empowerment and employment. In this recent article for New Mobility Magazine, Ghenis shares his tips on dating in the digital age.
Let’s face it, dating is tricky for people with disabilities. The stigma of disability causes many to not recognize us as potential partners, says we aren’t sexy, or paints us as just too high needs to be with.
I know plenty of crips, though, who have met people in person and developed relationships over time. But what happens when crips are looking for love (or lust) online? How do we put forward our disability to open some minds of strangers, get people interested — and then, land us some dates? First off, we need to be honest and mention our disability. Then, we need to frame it as best as possible on a profile and in any messages. And after that, it never hurts to tweak things around to see what works best in the dating world.
I personally use two dating apps, OkCupid and Tinder, and mentioning my disability is tricky on both. Here are some things that I’ve tried, and what’s worked out well in my world so far.
The Difference Between the Two Dating Apps
Now first off, let’s talk about the main difference between OkCupid and Tinder: OkCupid is a website that lets you build a longer profile, answer questions about yourself, and really browse other website members. Depending on how you answer questions, it’ll even give you a “match percentage” with other users so you can see how compatible you might be. You can send a message to anybody and browse profiles as quickly or in-depth as you want.
Tinder, on the other hand, is a cell phone app linked up to Facebook and Instagram (if you want). You get to put up a few personal photos and a 500-character self-description, which is a little less than four tweets’ worth of text. People can “like” somebody by swiping right, or say no-thanks by swiping left — and if both people swipe right, the app lets them know they’ve matched and gives them room to trade some messages.
So far, OkCupid has built a bit of a reputation as a more “serious” dating site, while Tinder is considered a “hook up” app — but people look for relationships of all kinds on both. Dating around is a numbers game, so sometimes it’s OK to use both at the same time (as long as you’re clear with what you want).
What about mentioning disability? Well, OkCupid might be the easier of the two if you really want to explain yourself. It gives plenty of room for plenty of questions: there are sections called “my self summary,” “what I’m doing with my life,” “I’m really good at,” “the first things people usually notice about me,” and more. The good thing about this is there are many places to mention disability, in many different ways. In my self-summary, I mention that I work on disability issues and say, “hey, you might’ve noticed the chair in my pictures. Feel free to ask some questions.” To keep things simple and a bit funny, I just have the word “wheelchair” in both “the first things people usually notice about me” and as “one of the six things I could never do without.” As I said, plenty of places with plenty of options, and it’s plenty easy to go as short or in-depth as you want.
Here are a few tips on how to bring your disability into the conversation: Keep your descriptions of your disability comfortable and lighthearted. Mention it as a part of yourself but not some overwhelming factor, and even leave open the opportunity for them to connect over it if they’d like to. Disability can be a bit uncomfortable for some people (which is stupid, I know), so getting it out in the open can be disarming in a good way.
Tinder is a bit trickier, that’s for sure. Your profile is just a few photos and a 500-character description, so it’s tough to mention disability while still covering other bases. The photo part is even a tricky start: you’re allowed to have six photos, and one shows up as your main picture (people can either “swipe right” or “left” based on that picture, or look at your profile a bit deeper). I try to have at least one photo with my chair somewhere in the pictures, although I will admit that it’s not usually the main pic. My description has random things about me, like my love of chocolate, then says something along the lines of “I have a disability and am a proud member of the crew, educating about social justice and more. Feel free to ask — or let’s chat about our other interests, how the world is ridiculous, and how to live it up before it all ends.” The mention of my disability is brief, lighthearted, and recognizes that there is more to us than our bodies and the chairs we ride in.
Now, here’s the final question: should we even mention disability in the first place? I say yes. If there are pictures of us using a chair, a little description helps put it in context. If we frame our disability in the right way, we can open minds and change perspectives. It could even be a good thing: people may want to chat about something that’s new and “intriguing,” and disability can be a little less “threatening” in a world of hectic dating. If it’s not on a profile, though, it’s really best to mention it in some messages — because with all of the social issues around disability (however awful they are), it’ll definitely catch people off guard if you show up to a first meeting in a chair without letting them know ahead of time.
Of course, just do what’s best for you in the end. You can always switch photos or descriptions around and see what gets the most matches as well. People with and without disabilities do this all the time: it’s a fun little experiment that brings different opportunities at dates or relationships. Dating is also a bit of a numbers game, so it never hurts to throw out some different combinations in your search for love (or lust).