Your new neighbor/lab partner/blind date is  the total package- cute,  funny, smart.. However, they're also a person with a disability (PWD). What are you supposed to do now?

1.       Say hello. PWD are normal and usually welcome someone who wants to get to know them. Obviously, it’s better not to approach an angry or visibly upset person. Unless they are disturbed by a door that's hard to manage with their mobility impairment or a lurking devotee1, in which case, they will probably be glad for your intervention. If your assistance gets rebuffed, respect their autonomy and hope for better circumstances the next time you see them so you can introduce yourself.

2.      Learn about their disability without asking them to conduct an informal  seminar for you. There are tons of groups, lists (both snail mail and electronic), and media sources that exist solely to educate the unfamiliar soul. Aim for those that are run by other PWD with your new would be sweetie’s condition and prepare to spend some time getting educated. Be aware that the opinions of certain non-PWD led disability organizations often hold opinions that are not reflective of the general disability community. This is especially true of parent-led2 groups, because what parent of any child actually ever views them as a true adult. Hence the oft quoted expression, "You'll always be my baby."  Society tends to encourage the parents of PWD to infantalize their children, which may make it hard for them to accept the idea of their children engaging in normal adult activities like dating, relationships, and sensuality.3

3.      Discuss language preferences or be open to correction.Respect and use THEIR preferred terms. Anyone who uses the words handicapped, midget, invalid, or retarded as part of their regular vocabulary are likely to get a long lecture about how much I hate those words instead of my number. So if the digits are what you're after, remember that. 

In order to start date night right with me use disabled, disabled person, or people with disabilities instead of handicapped or invalid. Replace midget with dwarf or little person. Since even the Association of Retarded Citizens changed it’s name to The ARCand the Department of Mental Retardation5 became the Department of Developmental Services in many states, most people realize that the word ‘retarded’ and its mean spirited derivatives are best left in the olden days. Correct terminology includes cognitively delayed or developmentally disabled

As I said before, ask your perspective love interest their preferences and make sure to note the words they most despise. No need to let the wrong word abruptly end an amazing evening. It is also key to note a person’s choice when it comes to person first or identity first language6.  Be warned that there are also “in-group”words and phrases that PWD use among each other that most able-bodied people simply shouldn't say. Ask first to avoid apologizing later.

4.      Mobility  equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, etc)and assistive devices (communication boards, hearing aids, magnifiers, etc) are only to be handled by their owners or the people that individual designates. The same applies to service animals. This is an everyday for everyone rule, but is especially important when you want to prove to Mr. or Miss Right that you respect their boundaries.

5.      Make necessary life changes. If you want to romance an American Sign Language (ASL) user, learn ASL. They can’t learn to hear you, but you can learn to talk to them in the language they perfer.

Dating someone with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) disorderrequires you to switch to unscented products, including forsaking your favorite perfume, candle, and/or detergent. Nothing will undermine a blooming love affair faster than if your potential one and only has to spend days in bed because your house’s aromas triggered an episode.

People with neurological disorders often require temperatures either hotter or colder than standard. Be prepared to put on the capris in January or de-mothball that sweater in May according to the needs of the person your seeing.

6.      Make dates as non-problematic as possible. Find an ASL interpreted play, the restaurant that has Braille menus, the wheelchair accessible dance party, the scent freeconcert. Pick somewhere close to mass transit if your date doesn't drive and can't easily get in your traditional vehicle. Your special someone will feel extra special because you made an effort to make sure that your plans focused not only on their interests (which is also a key factor in date planning) but on ensuring that they got as much as possible out of the experience.

7.      Like many marginalized people, PWD often rely heavily on their fictive kinships10. In some cases whether or not these chosen family members approve of you will matter more than the opinions of your hopefully future significant other’s biological relatives. Figure out the most important people  to impress (they should be easy to spot) and get to it.

8.      While implementing everything on this list will help you catch and keep the interest of the PWD you’ve got your heart set on winning over, never forget that they are as individual as anyone without a disability. You are not solely defined by one expect of yourself are you? Doesn't it make you angry when someone else decides you should be? 

It makes PWD angry, too. For years, many have been treated as only a collection of their dysfunctions. They understand that they are so much more than that. Showing them that you know it, too, will gain you much traction on the relationship front.

Good luck in your romantic endeavors. If it works out for you and the  person who made you want to read this article, that's fabulous! If not, don't lose hope. There’s someone (probably quite a few) out there who can’t wait to find you.


  9.  https://invisibledisabilities.orgeducate/chemicalsensitivities/whygofragrancefree/
  11. Featured image by Farrukh

Published by Martina Robinson