When inaccessibility gets in the way of dating

Inaccessibility and stairs in Montréal

Date venues. Restaurants. Bars. Parks. Those tiny steps into tiny venues where we want to hear tiny bands playing tiny instruments, like the ukekele.

Inaccessibility is not a tiny issue when it comes to dating.

I talk a lot about accessibility. For those of you who know me, you knew that it was just a matter of time before the issue of accessibility surfaced on this blog. It affects every part of our lives. If you live in Quebec you are familiar with some of the obstructions we have here. If you’re not located here, there are some distinct types of inaccessibility, some of which I am familiar with through personal experience and interviews, many of which I will learn about after I write this post.

Let’s explore how in/accessibility plays into our lives, of which sexuality is a part.

For starters: physical access to  community centers, shops, friends’ houses, concert venues, medical offices, new hospitals (not naming any names Royal Victoria in Montreal, with your brand new non-automatic doors)..    Getting to those places safely and having the choice of which mode of transit we take, plays into how we feel when we get there or if we even get there at all!
Access to home care and support for daily living can make the difference between feeling good when we leave our homes and face the world or leading us to stay in until our next shower, which may not be tomorrow. Homecare services are being cut here in Quebec, and it’s worrying. More on that here.

Financial access and the opportunity to take part in cultural events like shows and concerts on a low-income.
Not to be understated, the stereotypes and social stigma that some of us experience because we are perceived as different, helpless, non-sexual, infantilized (child-like), stupid, irratic, funny-looking or whatever.

ACCESSIBILITY IS THE ABILITY TO FREELY ACCESS PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL SPACES WITH EASE, THE WAY YOU CHOOSE.

All of the above considerations can place a strain on our relationships or dating options. Sometimes we overlook these strains because we have been socially conditioned to keep our struggles to ourselves, or because we want to focus on the positive not the hard things. But the strain that inaccessibility puts on our relationships can be prominent and difficult, and it is important to acknowledge that too. Inaccessibility is not our fault.
Inaccessibility is not our fault – we didn’t design the inaccessible infrastructure or plant negative stigma’s in people’s heads, and yet it something that we have to deal with often. We bear the brunt of others, bad decision-making and sterotypes.

Where is inaccessibility?

Inaccessibility is found in the built environment – like stairs and fluorescent lighting, or lack of announcements on city buses;

and in our social environment – such as the expectations of what we can and can’t do, the stigma that we experience in public or within our families, or support systems that are not the way we would design them.

What are some ways inaccessible social and physical spaces affect our relationships and dating options?

Well, say you have a hard time meeting your partner or someone you are interested in because transit is  hard to navigate. It takes a lot of energy or causes you pain, or you get lost a lot because the infrastructure is not accessible. In order to preserve your energy and well-being, you stay home more. You spend less time together than you would if the transit system were fully accessible and it were easy to visit. When you do get together, sometimes you’re flustered, angry, or generally distracted by your transit experience. It takes a while to gather yourself when you arrive and meet that special someone. Sometimes you snap at them when really you wanted to snap at that rude Transport Adapté driver or sighted person who gave you the wrong directions, and then you feel guilty and sorry and this is how your dates start out sometimes. All because the transit system is not accessible in the way you need.

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This can take it’s toll on a relationship for sure. It is important to remember that it is not your fault that accessibility is not in place. In other locations around the country and world it is, and so it is possible here in Quebec as well. And we’ll get there. But in the meantime, think of it this way: because of these external pressures, more energy, attention and love is required to counteract that negative stuff, to keep things positive between you. That could be a positive thing in itself. More love ain’t a bad thing. It just takes a lot of care and energy to put out there. And it’s important to remember to replenish yourself as you also seek to pour love into your relationship.

Also if you and your honey resist ableism together it gives you a common purpose and something to work on together. And that ain’t bad either;)

Full disclosure, this is a page directly out of my storybook. If interested, see more about that here. (The time I was refused ramp access on a bus; a joint letter about the hypocricy of transit in Montreal: what the mayor says vs what many disabled people experience.)

Say you’re deaf and your partner isn’t.

You two have developed a good way of communicating, you taught yourself to read lips as a kid, and your partner has learned to face you when they speak, always keep in good light and can tell by your expression and body language when they need to repeat themselves. Here’s the thing. Their friends often invite them out to theatre productions and they then invite you. You would love to go! Will there be interpretation so that you can have access to the storyline and dialogue? No, it is a low-cost production and they do not have interpretation. The question is, should I go so I don’t miss out on social time and making a good impression on my beloved’s theater friends? Or should I say, ‘how about you take me to an event or show that will be accessible to me?’ and the night of the show go out with your friends from the deaf community who understand instead?

There is no right answer to this rather abrupt binary I’ve laid out. It depends on how you feel, your limits and comforts, the size of the venue, where the seats are, whether your partner speaks sign language and can interpret for you and about a million other factors. Probably you make compromises as does your partner, and hopefully their friends would be conscious of the need for sign language and advocate that alongside you when they can. The only constant is that your comfort and pleasure should be one of your major concerns, and pleasing the hearing people around you doesn’t have to be paramount. It is not your fault that there is not yet a publicly-funded interpreting service for the arts in Quebec. We’re working on it. It’s part of a petition for an inclusive accessibility law in Quebec, in collaboration with the new project À la porte/ At the Door. You can sign it here.

Say you just met this sweet person and you really like them and would like to go out.

They seem to like you too, and you’re all thrilled and sweaty and nervous and stuff. You exchange phone numbers and sure enough they call you to invite you to a gathering with their friends in a noisy bar. Happy because they called. Stressed because the atmosphere of a bar will be horrible and make you feel sick and anxious and you’ll need a full day to recover the day after. Do you go, sacrificing your needs and desires in order to not miss an opportunity with this cutie pie, or do you decline, embarassed, and hang up really fast?

Well, how much time do you have to recover the next day? If this an expenditure of energy that will be worthwhile, and you feel up for it then go for it. If not, why not suggest that cute tea shop around the corner from a nice park you could go prance around in after? Say something like, I would like to meet up for sure, how about somewhere a little more quiet so that I can hear all the brilliant things you have to say! This response is flirty and makes it clear that you want to spend time with the person, without having to go through an overwhelming and anxiety-inducing experience to do so.

Or you’re on a dating website and this person thinks you’re cute.

You think they’re cute. Every time meeting comes up in conversation with a particular suitor you skirt around the issue. Not because you don’t want to meet, but because the common places where people go out in your small town all have stairs leading to the entrance.

Timing and privacy are important considerations, and sometimes it seems like disabled people are constantly planning, making provisions, and otherwise accommodating for the inaccessible infrastructure and system. So what do you  suggest for a  first date? If it’s warm out,  Suggest taking a stroll  at a particular meeting point. Plan it so that you know you’ll end up at an accessible spot at the end of your walk, like an ice cream shop with a patio or a coffee shop. We often forget the good vibes being outside creates, this could be a really nice way to get to know someone. Also, it won’t be like that let’s meet in the bar at 7 PM kind of first date that so many people have. You’ll be memorable! Just make a spin so it seems quirky and fun that you chose this, rather unusual, first date spot.

The thing is, at the end of the day, if you have a connection with someone it doesn’t really matter where you go on dates. If you can be creative and think of novel ways of making the space fun, I promise it will be a good first date. Even if it is awkward at first. If your potential lover is unfamiliar with issues of accessibility, they are deferring to you to be the leader. Take that role, you know you’re good at it.

Let’s not beat around the bush, it can be really frustrating not being able to get into or stay in an environment for a first date or date with a long-term lover. Sometimes we feel like giving up and just going home. Sometimes that’s the best option. We know what a vibe-killer inaccessibility can be sometimes. The thing that I’ve learned, is that creativity and commitment to having a good time are a good antedote to steps and fluorescent lights and other lacking accessibility features.

There are ways to have dates that are accessible for everyone involved, and you have the knowledge necessary to make that happen.

As we continue to advocate for accessibility, let’s create our own sexy spaces and ways of doing dates that work for us.

I suggest going out there and planning dates in the way that works for you, keeping a balance between your happiness and well-being as well as the desire to have fun and connect with people. In other words, don’t sacrifice your needs just to go on dates with other people. When you’re in a position where you can, be flexible and suggest new fresh ideas that are derived from inaccessibility. That’s how innovation happens.

REMEMBER: INACCESSIBILITY IS NOT OUR FAULT.

Loving each other in this inaccessible environment is a revolutionary act! So take care of each other, you’re contributing to the struggle every time you smooch:)