Elizabeth Mazur, Ph.D.

De-Stressing Disability

It's Time to Talk About Tinder

Online Dating for Persons with Disabilities

Posted Jan 16, 2017

//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Santeri Viinamäki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few years after my father’s passing, my mother became interested in meeting men. However, as a woman living with the consequences of numerous oral cancer surgeries, she complained, “The minute I open my mouth, the men walk away.”  Socially, she was not unusual; women with disabilities, assumed by most to be neither sexy or sexual, tend to be have difficulties finding and keeping romantic partners.   In fact, throughout adulthood, their marriage rates are lower than those of men with disabilities or women without disabilities. 

Perhaps one way to escape stereotypes and stigma is by using the internet. A substantial proportion of romantic relationships in developed countries such as the US and Europe now begin with online datingAccording to Pew Internet, 15% of American adults have tried an online dating site, such as eHarmony and Match.com, or a mobile dating app, the most popular of which is Tinder. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, more than 1 of 4 have used online dating.  And most online daters rate the dating experience as positive; they agree that online dating is a good way to meet people, helps people find a better match for themselves, and is easier and more efficient than other ways of dating. But what do we know about how online dating might be similar or different for persons with disabilities? What advantages or disadvantages might it have?

For example, online daters need not, at least initially, reveal their disability.  In fact, this can lead to quite a bind.  Should one disclose or conceal, even though disability is a part of one’s life? Online dating also offers clear benefits. First, similar to that of persons without disabilities, online dating provides access to many potential partners.  Initially, a person need not even leave home.  This advantage is particularly helpful for people who are sensitive to rejection, which is typically is based on experience, especially for women with disabilities.  Dating web sites also provide convenient ways to learn about potential partners, frequently through profiles.  However, profiles are often criticized as failing to capture a person’s essence and, for good or bad, are virtually absent on some dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble.  Also, as the journalist Alexandra E. Petri recently pointed out, apps that are very photo dependent have done little to accommodate the needs of daters with visual impairments.

I am interested in what readers think.  What do you consider to be the advantages and disadvantages of online dating for persons with disabilities?  

References

Mazur, E. (2016).  Diverse disabilities and dating online.  In M. Wright (Ed.), Identity, Sexuality, and Relationships among Emerging Adults in the Digital Age (pp.  150-167).  Hershey, PA:  IGI Global.