The dating world of disabled people.
The world of disability and dating is being examined in new series The Undateables. But what are some of the dating complexities that disabled people face, asks Damon Rose. It goes without saying that you can’t lump all disabled people together when discussing this most personal of all subjects.
The barriers to dating, and gaining a relationship, are different depending on your disability and circumstances.
Adrian Higginbotham, 37, is blind and explains that for him the difficulties start with making first contact, the starting point for any relationship.
“You can’t do that casual walking into a room and making eye contact thing. You can’t smile at someone you have seen twice before walking down that same street.”
Anybody blind doesn’t know if the person sitting on the train next to them is the one they sat next to yesterday or if they’re someone who works in their building three floors up.
They can’t have nodding relationships that could go further. “A blind person I know used to deliberately wear odd shoes to try and get people to comment on it to see if anyone would say to him: “Do you realise you’ve got odd shoes on?”,” says Higginbotham. “He was trying to engineer a social interaction, though I hope he was being slightly tongue-in-cheek.”
When thinking about the basic blocks of relationship building, little can be more basic than choosing who you spend your time with. But not everyone has that choice.
Channel 4’s The Undateables features many people with learning difficulties and introduces us to a dating agency, Stars in the Sky, who help put people in touch with each other.
Lydia Jones is one of their chaperones – she makes sure that their clients get to the date venue safely and that they meet the right person, but she also oils lulls in conversations.
“Quite often, people with learning disabilities are forced into sharing relationships with people who they don’t have a choice about being with,” says Jones. “Their peers are the ones they meet at a day service or in supported living accommodation.”
Stars in the Sky is a small charity which has organised over 180 dates since starting in 2005. So far they have been the catalyst to one marriage, one same-sex ceremony, three engagements and around 15 longer term relationships.
Physical access gets top billing in terms of importance for wheelchair user Shannon Murray, a model who was the face of a recent publicity campaign for Debenhams. She doesn’t intend to get caught out by a date who might see her struggling up steps and be put off before the date even starts.
“I keep a shortlist of restaurants and bars on my Blackberry which don’t just have accessible loos but also have completely flat entrances. On a first date I am worried that guys come to the table believing I’m needy or not independent. I need to be completely in control.”
She feels that some of her relationships may have failed because of “over-independence” and her drive to never show vulnerability.