rear graduation college, Jacqueline Child, like many other busy 20-something Americans trying to find a partner or hookup, jumped into the tumultuous world of dating apps. In 2019, a few weeks after she actively tried to meet someone, She matched with a man on Bumble. When they decided to meet in person, he suggested they go for a walk. Jacqueline replied that a picnic would be better since she was recovering from surgery.
When he asked about the surgery, Jacqueline said she had a connective tissue disease. Then he answered: “Well…I hope you’re not planning on having children, because that would be really selfish. That’s how genes work.”
This was just one of the dozens of offensive messages Jacqueline, from Colorado, had to endure as she navigated a toxic dating culture as a woman with a disability and chronic illness . And that particular message isn’t all that unusual. As a young stroke survivor, I’ve had strangers say things like this to me online before.
Disabled people who are entering the age of online dating have to deal with more than just ignorant comments. There are personal safety concerns (especially for people with disabilities) and the difficulty of navigating online dating platforms. And the part most people consider fun – meeting in person with the hope that online flirtation will translate into real life – comes with far more pressure.
I don’t know anyone, disabled or not, who actually enjoys dating apps. For most of us, they are just a means to an end. Having to market yourself online with a perfectly curated profile, deal with frequent rejections, and spend hours engaging with strangers you may never meet can be exhausting.
Those of us with disabilities or chronic illnesses also have to deal with the anxiety of not knowing how the game will respond. How do I tell them? When should I tell them? Will they immediately kick me out or reject me? Anxiety about disclosing a disability can be paralyzing in itself.
After being called a “burden” many times, Jacqueline began to feel that she was not worthy of a relationship. One day in 2021, she told her sister Alexa she wished there was a legal and free dating app. specially designed For people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. “Let’s take matters into our own hands,” said Alexa, who had spent years watching Jacqueline struggle with hurtful comments.
In October 2022, younger sisters has released a free app in North America called Dateability. As of the end of 2023, we had 11,000 members, ranging from wheelchair users to immunocompromised individuals to non-disabled allies.
“We want to be an inclusive place where people feel safe and important,” Jacqueline said.
The decision to welcome non-disabled peers into the app Because we don’t want to send the important and undervalued message that disabled people should only date other disabled people. “[Disabled people] Everyone has the freedom to love whoever they want and everyone has the right to do so,” Alexa said. “But this is a good way to weed out people who discriminate against people with disabilities.”
Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with the sisters’ decision to include people without disabilities on this platform. Because I very much appreciate being with a partner who can do things that I physically cannot do. Still, I’ve always been hesitant about dating apps. Because I’m a hopeless romantic with nostalgic tendencies who love dating apps and chance encounters. I have no idea what I’m looking for or, frankly, if anyone else is looking for someone like me.
Still, for the sake of good journalism, I had to at least check out this app.
So I recently downloaded the app, created a profile, added a few photos, and started swiping. Although the app didn’t have the sleek, streamlined aesthetic of mainstream apps, it was very user-friendly, efficient, and accessible on many devices, not just your phone. But as I swiped, I saw some of the same faces pop up again.
Because Dateability is relatively new and caters to a minority demographic ( largest minority demographic), the pool of potential matches that met my age and location preferences was understandably limited. Speaking of minorities, there wasn’t much racial diversity either, which didn’t surprise me. Disability stigma in immigrant communities (especially communities of color) is a major deterrent to coming out about disabilities.
But there was one seemingly innocuous element that made this app a bona fide game changer. After answering the standard questions about age, height, and place of residence, I came across a question titled “Determine a date.” I was then presented with a fairly extensive list of options to broadly describe my disability, chronic illness, or lack thereof.
There was actually a box with exact descriptors that I could choose from. Ambulatory wheelchair user. This phrase appeared at the bottom of my profile along with all my other personal information. It was so freeing to know that whoever I matched with already knew this part of my identity and would embrace it, just like my political affiliation or religion.
“A ‘dateability deets’ question doesn’t require any pesky disclosure discussions,” Alexa said.
By not having to disclose a disability or chronic illness, we can eliminate the stigma associated with it. In this space, our disabilities become markers of our identity rather than something to be ashamed of.
“If we can open up and normalize disability, not only will our community benefit from it, but others outside of our community will benefit from it, because we will see ourselves as more valuable.” People will see us that way too,” Jacqueline said.
In 2024, Jacqueline and Alexa will work on the design and technical aspects of expanding the app’s accessibility in North America and other regions of the world. As Dateability grows, I hope it continues to be even more inclusive, but that may require thoughtful support for disabled people of color.
Involving all types of individuals on this app will ensure that we, as a community, do not deliberately isolate ourselves to the margins of society (a world that is not disability friendly is not good enough for us). That’s enough). Many of us want to be out here, but only in a more empathetic, accepting, and accessible world of dating.