by MARTINA ROBINSON in LIFE AND STYLES 

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  • Often, on social media, you see video of a beautiful non-disabled person agreeing to escort  a person with a disability (PWD) to any social event because they feel sorry for them. I don't think think promoting that sort of inspiration porn1 is  nice thing to endorse. It teaches PWD that  no one will ever actually love and respect them for themselves as full members of society. How is it kind to give weight to a bigoted falsehood2?   It won't get you any bonus points with the friend you really like or earn you good karma. All that will probably happen is that you’ll end up hurting someone’s feelings. Quite possibly your own if your pity date3  turns out to be more interesting than you expect. Should the person in question ever discover why you asked them out originally your relationship will be irreversibly damaged.
  • Stare. PWD are human beings not tourist attractions. One particularly snarky friend of mine used to tell any adults she caught staring that she expected 50 cents in payment per person as she was clearly providing them with entertainment. The person you’re interested in is not likely to be any more charitable.
  • Ask “What’s wrong with you?” This is especially true if you just met the person. Randomly asking a stranger about their disability or health condition is invasive and rude. Its not your business. Why would anyone desire to go on a date with any individual who is that clueless, especially in public? If some time has passed and you are becoming friendly with the person, I think the best way to phrase this sort of question is some version of the following: “I was wondering how you came to (use a wheelchair, need a walker, lose your eyesight, etc…). However, you should respect their right not to answer.
  • Ask about their sex life or capacity to have children right away. This is not a first date or eHarmony/Match/OkCupid chat topic. Bringing these topics up prematurely will just make you look horny and stupid. Not an attractive combination.
  • FAIL to understand and obey “No” in all situations. This does not apply just to sexual consent. It applies to everything from “No, I’m totally capable of crossing the street independently.” to “No, don't pet my service dog while he’s working.”

Misunderstandings or faux pas around these kinds of issues may seem minor to you, but many PWD take them to be an indicator of something much more sinister. Given that sexual assault statistics assert that more than 8 out of 10 women with disabilities, as well as more than 3 out of 10 men, will be victimized in their lifetimecan you blame them for putting someone who doesn’t respect their lesser boundaries into the reject pile right away ?

  • Fetishize them. Many PWD find this sort of obsession unsettling and may report you to authorities if you do not desist in pursuing them when they ask you to do so. If that's what you're looking for do a specific search for “devotee”, “disability kink”, or similar terms to make sure your connecting with someone who's looking for that sort of experience.
  • Infantilize them. This is a DO NOT EVER DO for everyone rule, but its especially true for those who wish to date PWD. Society has been taught wrongly that PWD are incapable of performing even the most basic of tasks unassisted. In the past, people have assumed I was in danger when I was seated at the crosswalk waiting for the walk signal directly across from my town’s well lit library. The general public often assumes someone able-bodied needs to be with me at all times. Food servers are shocked when I order my own dinner in a restaurant.

If you want to date any PWD, it’s necessary to not only disabuse yourself of such wrongheaded thinking. You will also likely find yourself spending more time than you ever wanted correcting the behavior in others. Everyone from strangers on the street to your own family members will sometimes treat your significant other like a child. If you allow this behavior to go unchallenged and/or don't support your partner when they correct it, they are fully justified in dumping you. 

  • Bring up any topic that would be taboo on a date with a non-disabled person. Examples that have actually happened to me include asking how I handled my bathroom needs and if I could dress myself. While it is true that I need assistance with both of these activities, the only relevance it played on my date was to convince me that I shouldn't go on another one with that person.
  •  Assume that if things get serious, you will need to become your love interest’s primary caregiver. Many PWD don’t need any assistance in completing their activities of daily living (ADL) 5 If one does, they may wish to hire someone who they are not romantically involved with to help them with these tasks because it's easier to make someone who is strictly in their employ do things exactly the way they want. It tends to stress a relationship if one tries to occupy both the role of significant other and caretaker. It may also cause one or both people to feel like they are spending too much time together. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. The lack of absence caused by duties as both partner and assistant may have the opposite effect.

If you've made any of the mistakes listed here the cute PWD you liked has probably moved on to someone much worthier of their awesomeness. If you made them particularly irate the post office may have delivered this shirt to your doorstep. Perhaps when you opened it, your heart swelled a bit, hoping it was a “let's try this again” gift. Sadly, it wasn't. Better luck, which will surely be helped by better manners, next time.

Sources:

  1. http://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en
  2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/03/are-disabled-people-really-undateable
  3. http://www.ncdsv.org/images/sexualassaultstatistics.pdf
  4. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_of_daily_living
  5. Featured image by Megan B.

 

Published by Martina Robinson