When I was 16, I had an older family friend named Debbie, who dated, and then married, a young man with limited vision. Her grandmother declared that Debbie could “do better”—in fact, that she should do better, that at age 22 she already was limiting her life by choosing to spend it with this man. To her family, Debbie was “settling," and depending on the relative, the existence of this relationship indicated that Debbie considered herself either a loser or a saint.

How difficult it must be to cope with such family prejudice, especially if you feel you have found “the one." Partners without disabilities commonly report that even strangers treat them differently because of their relationship with a person with a disability. Rhoda Olkin noted many years ago that Americans commonly believe that no able-bodied person will consider a person with a disability desirable as a sex partner. It is interesting that, according to Julie Smart, people without disabilities typically ascribe far more importance and limitations to their potential partner’s disability than they do. 

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I read of a new Tinder-like dating and friendship app called Glimmer, which aims to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. But the cool part is that this phone app, which launched this past January, is not just for people with disabilities; it is also for those without. According to its website, although the app includes a list of various disabilities that a user may select, the app is designed “for all people in mind…We go beyond just looks and connect users based on shared interests and lifestyles.” However, developers of other dating apps are likely to comment that this is true of their programs as well, and it will be interesting to see if persons without disabilities do sign up. In fact, constructing any online dating profile is, at least in part, an exercise in self-identity and identification of one's value by trying to predict the opinions of potential partners'.

And there are glitches that still need to be worked out. Ironically, for example, Glimmer is available only as a phone app, not as a web site, for which technology would more readily allow log-ins by persons with difficulties with vision, with using their hands, and with other communication difficulties. 

May this Valentine’s Day be inclusive for everyone, without stigma for partners with and without disabilities.  And, if you decide – disabled or not – to try out Glimmer, please share your comments about this new dating and friendship app.

References

Olkin, R. (1999).  What psychotherapists should know about disability.  New York: Guilford Press.

Smart, J. (2011).  Disability across the developmental lifespan.  New York:  Springer

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