If I am being honest, my fantasy first date scenario looks a little something like this: I am in a bar by myself having a malt milkshake (apparently my fantasy takes place in 1955), and a handsome, smart guy asks me to dance. What happens next might be the scene from Grease where Olivia Newton John and Travolta sing "You're the One that I Want," but just go with it, okay!
The reality is that because most bars lack wheelchair access, and disability transit would force one to travel 3 hours for one hour of dancing, going to a bar for many crips is simply too much of a hassle. By the time you actually get there, you're like Cinderella -- constantly glancing at your watch, hoping and praying that this scenario doesn't happen:
Hottie: "Hey, you're pretty cute. Wanna dance?"
You: "I really would, but it's almost midnight and my disability transit might leave without me. Find me!" (If there was a possibility that you would turn into a pumpkin or leave a glass slipper here, trust me, you'd do it.)
I have been in this situation, and it really blows. So, what does the cool cripple do to get into the dating game? Many of us have resorted to online dating. It seems easy enough, right? No transit woes, no access issues... problem solved. Le sigh. If only things were that simple. Dating with a disability in the digital age comes with its own unique set of challenges and scenarios. Let's review:
1. Confessing You're a Crip: Disclosing one's disability has often been a matter of contention in the disability community when it comes to online dating. When and how does one disclose? Do you chat it up with the person a little and engage in banter, only to later say, "By the way, I use a wheelchair"? Or, do you take a really artistic selfie that conveniently hides your mobility aid? You could, as I have been known to do, make no qualms about the fact that you are a crip and state it openly in your profile. The phrase "Cool, Cute and Crippled" or "Date on Wheels" may or may not have been written above an equally awesome photo of mine. You're gonna have to do it some time, so you may as well get creative.
2. The Fadeout: Oftentimes, after you disclose your disability to someone on the inter-webs, what follows can only be described as the "fadeout," or dare I say, "ghosting the gimp." This is the long stretch of time where one is waiting for a response after forthrightly mentioning their disability. If you have to wait longer than a few minutes, or have to message them repeatedly following disclosure, this has most likely happened to you. It is a clear indication that this individual is not quite ready to handle this information, and while that is completely valid, no one likes being ghosted.
3. "Google the Gimp": One of my all time favorite responses from someone online after I had disclosed that I Cerebral Palsy was, "Oh. I don't know anything about that, let me Google it." On its face, I understand that this is an attempt on their part to connect with me and to learn about something they have no context in -- I totes get that, yo. In fact, I found it cute a few times. The problem arises when in their earnest attempt to gain context, they marinade in the malady of disability. For example, the guy who Googled Cerebral Palsy came back to me spouting words like "contractures," "seizures" and "brain damage," and was overly concerned about my 'diagnosis.'
When I attempted to assuage his trepidation (all a very fancy way of saying, get him in my bed), he was steadfast in his assertion that the Wiki page he landed on somehow was the oracle of all known disability knowledge, and thus he was grappling with feelings of uncertainty about me. The lesson here: #askacripple. If you want to understand about my disability before meeting me so you don't come off as blatantly ignorant and insensitive, please don't. By doing this, you fail to see the person and have pieced together everything about 'me' in a few right clicks and outdated quasi-medical terminology. I would rather teach you myself about what my disability is to me. Moreover, what you assume as pure ignorance, I see as opportunity. Turn off the Googs, I got this.
4. Digitally Direct: We all know that regardless of ability, the Internet provides each of us with a cloak of anonymity. You can be whom you want to, and say things without consequences. This has led to some awkward exchanges when it comes to disability. If the person is talking to you about disability, their curiosity usually kicks in by line 5 with, "May I ask what made you like this?" I always want to come back with something witty and hilarious like, "Well, I was doing cartwheels off the 27th floor of this skyscraper when tragedy struck" but I can't. And, we all know that I could come up with something much naughtier, right? Also, I still take issue with the fact that this question allows one to have been 'made a cripple.' By line 7, they're opening with, "I know this may seem rude, but..." What usually follows is, "does your junk work?" or, "Can you get it up?" Dependent on my mood, and the site that I am on, my response to this is usually a variation on, "Come over, I will show you." See, I can be direct too.
5. "I Don't Think We're a Match": Okay, this one could happen to anyone, crippled or not. It's the polite way of saying that "I don't want to click on your face." We've all done it. As a Cripple though, at least for me, one of my biggest worries is that you didn't even bother to read my awesomeness. Instead, you got scared and bolted because of all the 'wheelness' that I bring. Although, it is ten times worse when they say: "We're not a match. It has nothing to do with your affliction though." This actually happened.
Dating with a Disability online has been an interesting journey indeed. My travels down the information super highway have highlighted that we still have much to do to make it accessible to people. But, go ahead, clear your cookies and put that crip in your cache -- you may end up meeting someone that you really click with IRL.
Thanks for reading! If you want to find out more about my work as a Disability Awareness Consultant, check out www.andrewmorrisongurza.com where you can see how I can make disability accessible to you!