Dating with a Disability. “It’s only a big deal if you make it one”- YDAN (2017)

May 10, 2017

When did the question “do you want to go out with me?” change to “can you go out at all?”

I’m not sure what it is about having a disability that makes men seem to think that I don’t want to be in a relationship, go on dates or pretty much anything else you do in relationships like kiss, hold hands and have sex.

I didn’t realise that being blind made me asexual, incapable of expressing affection or uninterested in seeing them with their shirts off (definitely not the case – I don’t just follow AFL because I love my chosen team…there is no way that I am the only woman out there who watches the games and occasionally thinks “hey, he is pretty cute”).

Imagine that you are sitting at a party, surrounded by people you have been friends with since you were 17, a few high school friends are scattered about but most of the crowd are people you have met since then and you know each other so well that you can convey entire conversations just by looking at each other.

Someone comes up to you and introduces themselves. They hold out their hand, stand there for a few seconds and you can feel the awkwardness as they wonder why you have not reached out to shake their hand in return.

The start of the most awkward conversation is seconds away – you take a deep breath and hope that they cannot see the fear and uncertainty in your face.

“Hi, I’m Grace.” 

Do I tell him that I am blind?

I have had some hilarious responses when I tell a guy that I am blind, the best came from an acquaintance at university a few years ago – “So you are like Daredevil? Like, can’t see anything but all of your other senses are like super high?”

Then there is the other variety.

“Oh, sorry…I didn’t see that…sh**, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that!”

You guessed it – the word they are stumbling on is “see” – as if they think the word alone is offensive instead of what they are probably about to do that really is offensive.

Back to the party…

I move my cane from my side to right in front of me so I don’t have to go through the long and drawn out conversation of I have a disability. In my role as a disability advocate, I have to talk about it all the time and frankly, this is not something I want to be discussing with a stranger I have just met at a party – I am well aware of my disability but it does not prevent me from understanding the true character of the person standing in front of me and that this could be yet another person who will never see me as anything other than disabled.

I hear the guy pull his arm away, obviously realising that my orange cane is a symbol for something other than to complement my outfit. The seconds tick away before one of us starts asking the other how they know *insert the name of party host*.

Crisis averted for now.

After a few minutes of asking generic questions, “what do you do?” and “do you know anyone else here?”

It happens.

“Um….do you mind If I ask you how you became blind…or have you been blind since birth or is it just one eye or was it….”

We have arrived at the disability conversation, never mind about who I am or what my interests may be because all they can focus on is what is “wrong” with me.

It sounds like he is asking out of curiosity, I decide to give him the standard answer (no, I went blind at 18 and it is not a genetic thing).

“Oh..….what can you see?”

Enough to know that this conversation has to be curbed before you ask questions that I really don’t want to answer in this setting.

I answer him anyway and hope that he changes the subject. Fast.

I smile again, hoping that he can see that I am interested in talking to him but wish he would say something else.

It is at this point that one of my friends walks over and gives me an awkward hug from behind and asks me how I am doing/ how is the advocacy thing going/ starts describing the party decorations.

If the guy sitting opposite me has any doubt about my level of sight it is soon blindingly obvious as my friend starts describing the decorations or outfits of the other guests in detail.

Sometimes I have been lucky and the guy joins in, suddenly realising that his powers of analysis and comparison could be extremely useful. The conversation becomes a challenge for him to help me picture the scene around us and we can spend several minutes making comparisons between the outfits and setting to movies.

On other occasions, it turns into a series of sentences that trail off like this: “I don’t know if you have seen the movie blah blah….sorry, I didn’t mean to say that…”

Even I can see that he is trying, you just go with it and tell them that it is okay to use words and phrases about vision because it is not an issue at all.

Most of the time that will quell their fear for a while and the man I am speaking to starts talking about all kinds of things, like he has just been rescued from making an even greater error than the one he was already making. Throughout the night (or at subsequent events) he will come up to me and chat with me again about music, books and recount some funny anecdote about a previous event. It is as if talking to someone with a disability is worthy of an award or something, “good on you for talking to that disabled woman”.

This may seem difficult to believe but I have the same amount of difficulty chatting with men that could be boyfriend material, regardless of the fact that I am blind and have to rely on audio cues and gut instinct to figure out if they are interested in talking to me.

Do you think that a person with a disability is any less interested in dating than a person without disability?

I am not single at 24 because I was not interested in dating. The reason I am single at 24 is because I am yet to find a man who can see past my disability – as if my disability is a dealbreaker for them rather than the usual themes of trust, honesty, loyalty and if they would get along with your friends.

Dating sites and apps are not always accessible for people with disabilities, those that rely on viewing images of a person are pointless for someone like me. Besides, most of the apps I know of do not work with assistive software like screen readers so I am unable to use them at all.

I am not going to not date a man because he has a disability, if he needs hearing aids, a wheelchair, has glasses or a mobility cane then great- we will have some fabulous adventures trying to navigate the world around us.

You never know where you might meet your future partner, why would you let their disability prevent you from taking that leap of faith?