Dealing with rude non-disabled

Article part of a serie published on www.scarleteen.com on July 28, 2017.

Many people with evident physical impairments — like those that require the use of mobility devices — encounter rude questions from nondisabled people on the regular. Those with chronic illnesses and other impairments that might not always be immediately obvious certainly come in for their share as well. Sometimes it feels like we should be selling tickets to the freak show.

Ridiculous and wildly inappropriate questions come from family, friends, complete strangers, and even medical professionals who should know better.

They may want to know: “What’s wrong with you?” “How did you get like that?” “Are you going to get better?” “How do you [ordinary daily task]?” But when it comes to sexuality, many nondisabled people are extremely curious — and rude.

Some seem to think asking for intimate details about your sex life is totally okay. They want to know mechanics and details like: “How do you have sex in a wheelchair?” “Can you…?” If you’re LGBQ, they ramp it up even more. The good old “but how do lesbians have sex?” question goes on steroids when one or both partners is disabled. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re being pretty rude — how would they like it if we went around asking them intimate personal questions?

You have the right to privacy, and to be treated with respect and dignity. That includes the right to decline to discuss private medical information with people, and to pass on an opportunity to talk about whether and how you have sex. The only people who truly need information about your sex life are your sexual partners — in intimate personal communication with each other about how to have joyful, delightful sex — and your doctor, when it’s medically relevant. (“I’m thinking about getting pregnant,” “I’m having vaginal pain,” or “I’m worried I might have an STI.”)

It can be hard to figure out how to deal with people asking invasive questions, particularly if you live in a culture where you’re taught to be polite to others, especially elders, and it’s an important part of your values.

It may feel uncomfortable or even wrong to assert yourself, so let’s start with the soft approach, one endorsed by none other than Miss Manners: The “pardon me?”

“Hey, can you, you know…get it up?”

“Pardon me?”

People ask rude questions for all kinds of reasons — genuine curiosity, confusion, a mistaken attempt at conveying interest, or, yeah, rudeness. A (sometimes rather pointed) “pardon me?” is an answer that’s both perfectly polite and unobjectionable while also putting people on blast that what they’re saying probably isn’t very appropriate. By reflecting the question back on the asker this way, you’re forcing them to rethink whether that question is such a good idea.

If they decide to keep pressing the point, it’s okay to say: “That’s none of your business,” “I don’t feel comfortable discussing personal matters with you,” “I don’t think this is relevant to the conversation,” or just, “You’re being rude, please stop.” Sometimes rephrasing the question and tossing it back at them can also send a pretty clear signal that ends this line of conversation — “How do you have sex in a wheelchair?” “Uh, how do you have sex without one?”

It’s okay to be curious — I’m curious about all kinds of things! — but it’s not okay to use actual living humans like a reference textbook.

There are resources available to nondisabled people who are interested in learning more about disability and sexuality that don’t involve querying every disabled person they meet about their personal lives. (Like this one, for example!) Sometimes nondisabled people feel awkward or uncomfortable and it’s not your job to put them at ease, but redirecting the conversation somewhere else can demonstrate that you have interests beyond your disability; shift the conversation to books, cooking, music, film and television, something in the news, or other topical subjects.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a bailout, either. Your friends should be able to back you up when you’re trapped in the corner with someone who’s quizzing you about whether it’s awkward to have sex when you wear an insulin pump. If you’re out with friends, consider arranging a discreet signal that means “come help me!” so you can escape these kinds of conversations. Your nondisabled friends should also know that it’s okay (and welcome) to intervene even without being asked if they see a disabled person being asked invasive personal questions, and encourage them to push back on speculation about the sex lives of disabled people even when we aren’t in the room.

Many people think it’s okay to ask rude questions because no one has told them not to, or they think the rules don’t apply to them. Letting them know it’s not okay isn’t just good for you, it’s good for society.

Playing the Online Dating Game, in a Wheelchair

Opinion letter by Emily Ladau published on www.nytimes.com on September 27, 2017.

The first time I forayed into online dating, I let my wheelchair show just a little in my photos. The good guys, I hoped, would be so taken by my clever profile and witty banter that they’d be able to look beyond my disability, if they even noticed it at all.

I eagerly began swiping, quickly matching with an attractive man whose profile picture showed him sporting an enormous iguana on his shoulder. Thinking that would make for an easy conversation starter, I messaged him. A few minutes later, he replied, but instead of responding to my reptilian inquiry, he asked, “Are you in a wheelchair?”

I kept my answer simple and told him that yes, I do use a wheelchair, but I was much more interested in the back story of the iguana. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested at all, messaging back only to say: “Sorry. The wheelchair’s a deal-breaker for me.”

His blunt reply stung, but the feeling was nothing new. Because I was born with my disability — Larsen syndrome, a genetic joint and muscle disorder — I’d already gathered a pile of romantic rejections seemingly big enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool by the time I downloaded Tinder. This particular rejection, however, unleashed a wave of panic within me.

A few months before my initial swipes, I’d gone through a messy breakup with a man I dated for over two years. I truly believed he was the person I’d marry, and that I’d never have to worry about rejection again. When I found myself newly single, I turned to online dating in the hopes of easing my fears that no one else would ever accept me as I am, that lightning doesn’t strike twice.

Not one to be deterred, I persevered, downloading every possible dating app and creating accounts on various dating sites. But I became skittish about revealing my disability, because in an already shallow dating culture, I believed my wheelchair would cause most men to write me off without a second thought. So I decided to hide my disability completely. I cropped my wheelchair out of my photos. I eliminated any mention of it in my profiles. In this virtual world, I could pretend my disability didn’t exist.

I kept up with this facade for a while, messaging matches who were none the wiser. Once I thought I’d spoken with a guy long enough to establish his interest, I’d choose a moment to strike, telling him about my disability. I’d send a long-winded explanation divulging my wheelchair use, reminding him that it didn’t make me any less of person and ending with reassurance that he could ask me questions, should he have any.

After dropping the “wheelchair bomb,” I’d have to brace myself for their reactions, which were always a mixed bag, often ranging from indifference to ghosting. Occasionally, I’d receive an accepting response.

One man that I connected with on Coffee Meets Bagel was incredibly apologetic when I first told him about my wheelchair, as though it was the most tragic thing he’d ever heard. I shut that down by explaining that my disability is part of who I am and it’s nothing to be sorry for. I ended up going on one date with him, and then another. For the second date, my bagel suggested a painting night (a social event that involves paintbrushes, canvases, acrylics and, usually, wine) since I’d told him how much I enjoy them. He found a Groupon and I researched a location, picking out a restaurant in New York City that was supposed to be wheelchair accessible.

As it turned out, the restaurant was accessible, but the painting class was happening in a room upstairs. So, we spent our entire date sitting directly below the painters, eating dinner and making strained conversation with wine-fueled laughter and painting instruction in the background. I was mortified. Following that disaster, I promised my date I’d get his money back. As soon as the company refunded our tickets, I never heard from him again.

It was painful to realize that the hard part isn’t over once someone learns that I’m disabled. Going on dates with me can be a crash course on disability, and I recognize that’s not always easy for non-disabled people to process. But I wasn’t helping the situation by keeping the existence of my disability concealed, springing it upon people only when I thought it felt right. In retrospect, this served only to contribute to the stigma I usually work so hard to fight.

I felt like a hypocrite. In every other area of my life, my disability is front and center. I write and speak endlessly about being a proud, unapologetic disabled woman. It is part of my identity, shaping everything I do and everything I value. But in the online dating world, my disability was my secret shame.

So I decided it was time for a change. I started gradually, making references to my disability throughout my profile, then adding photos in which my wheelchair is clearly visible. I tried to keep things light and humorous. For instance, OKCupid asks users to list six things they can’t live without; one of mine is “the invention of the wheel.”

Still, I found myself having to make sure that potential matches had actually picked up on the trail of clues I’d left. I grew tired of feeling like I needed to deceive men into being interested because society instilled in me that my disability makes me undesirable. Finally, I took the leap I’d been so afraid to make, opening up about disability to strangers whom I hoped would appreciate my honesty and perhaps send me a message.

Prominently in my profile, I wrote: “I’d like to be very upfront about the fact that I use a wheelchair. My disability is part of my identity and I’m a loud, proud disability rights activist, but there is so much more that defines me (you know, like the stuff I’ve got in my profile). I realize some people are hesitant to date a human who experiences the world sitting down. But I’d like to think you’ll keep reading and dive a little deeper. And you’re welcome to ask questions, should you have any.”

Once I added that paragraph, I felt liberated, relieved that anyone I spoke to would have a clearer picture of me. There have been plenty of matches that haven’t worked out, and whether that’s actually because of my disability, I’ll never know. But I had a nearly yearlong relationship with a man I met through OKCupid, so I know it’s possible for lightning to strike again. My dating life remains a comedy of errors, and I still struggle every day with the feeling that my disability means I won’t find love, but at least I’m being true to myself. I’m putting myself out there — my whole self — and it feels good to be proud of who I am.

Mixed Messages: Ableism in Dating

Article by Aimee Louw originally published on www.canadianwomen.org on March 20, 2017
Ableism can be defined as systemic discrimination based on disability. You know, those encounters you have that make you feel bad about your disability, or those barriers that prevent you from having your needs or desires met.
Ableism shows up everywhere. And for women or femmes or gender non-binary people, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint whether it’s misogyny, ableism, or a gnarly combination.
So how does ableism enter the dating world?
“Ableism in dating is not overt, aggressive or necessarily oppressive. It is the things NOT SAID, the quiet questions, the missed opportunities born out of fear…” said Andrew Gurza, founder of the Disability After Dark podcast.
Often, the way that disability and accessibility are perceived can affect dating. Personally, I’ve learned that feminist crip rage isn’t understood or appreciated by all dates. (I mean, it is to me, but.) Dates who aren’t familiar with this area of advocacy and intimacy may find accessibility too demanding. It might seem like too much for people who don’t see ableism as a social problem.
Below are a few instances of ableism gathered from people in Quebec and Ontario, and some of my own experiences. These are excerpts from interviews and conversations I conducted during my time working for the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN), co-coordinating the ACSEXE+ project in 2015.
Often, when it comes to disability, there can be confusion about the way we move or communicate or perceive things, and also confusion as to what our body language is telling another person or how that other person should interact with us.
One anonymous respondent said:
“The most common experiences that I have gone through have been attached to the wheelchair and my speech disability and the connotations that others have when they’re not aware of my disability. Challenges are seen in the form of:
a) not being able to enter a popular bar or club that a date would have liked to spend a night out at;
b) the appearance of being drunk due to lack of coordination and slurred speech; or
c) the first time awkwardness linked to getting intimate.”
Meeting people can be a challenge for some disabled people for several reasons, including ableist assumptions about us. This anonymous interviewee talked about their experience with online dating:
“There are all kinds of reactions. Most of the time people feel sorry, and that hurts just as when someone stops replying because they got scared.”
Queer dating scenes don’t seem to be an exception to this. One queer respondent put it this way:
“I tried online dating a couple of times. I found it so stressful. Having to come out as disabled because it is not obvious online in my case. Having to perform the story: “Hey I’m disabled but it’s not that bad.” I can’t do it anymore. It makes me sick. Many friends tell me I should make more effort and date more often, but I just don’t feel like I have the energy for that right now.”
In my experience, there are very particular looks for “types” that we can use to identify or signal other queers to us. If, for reasons of body stuff or mobilizing or the way that we communicate, we don’t fit into those categories, or if we don’t want to, it can be a lot harder to meet people or even enter into queer dating scenes.
Some people said there was more ableism in the families of partners than with partners themselves. This anonymous accessibility activist said:
“Most of the people I was seeing were friends before, so… they already knew [about my disability]. The only ableist aspect with seeing friends is that they were more concerned with how their families would react to our relationship. It was like, ‘yeah, we could get serious, but it’s gonna get complicated with our families talking’. They were being honest, I guess.”
Another anonymous interviewee shared similar experiences:
“I’ve observed ableism from the family and friends of the individuals I have dated in past.”
A memorable moment for me: a family gathering of my boyfriend’s at the time. I was strongly encouraged to change his nephew’s diaper while being questioned by his mother about my potential as a child bearer. Here, my gender and her curiosity about my disability, and the expectation that I would be the future primary caregiver of desired grandchildren, combined to make for a particularly strange gathering around the changing table. Awkward!
And on staying in the wrong relationship our anonymous activist said:
“There are two main fears: 1) not being accepted and 2) being alone. I [have] stayed in relationships so that I wouldn’t be alone. But you’re hurting yourself, because it’s like a poison that seeps in the farther you go. You get to a point where you say, how did we get here? Wish we had dealt with this earlier…”
When it comes to women, femmes,girls and gender non-binary people, there are multiple layers of awkward or weird comments and unwelcome commentary. I can’t even count the times that I man has tried to get my attention or ask me out by first saying something like “oh what’s a pretty girl like you doing in that wheelchair?” Or the time I was out on a date with a man and he was confused and also endeared by the fact that I moved my body differently than him. There’s a specific kind of condescending questioning that this man – like others before him – felt in accessing information about my body. He felt completely entitled to ask me questions that were based on the assumption that I was abnormal and as such, needed to provide him with an explanation. All this on a first date!
As women and femmes we are under a lot of pressure to perform, be pretty, be sexy, fit images of femininity, say the right thing and when we have another differentiating factors such as a visible or invisible disability, there can be many constricted social requirements for us to comply with in order to feel accepted.
“People consider us as disabled people and not as disabled women” said Isabelle Boisvert during an interview, pointing out the common experience of being desexualised in a culture that equates women’s sexuality with a narrow image. I think disabled people across the board and across the gender spectrum receive this question a lot: ‘can you have sex?’
How many of my disabled, sick, Deaf sisters and siblings have encountered the condescending “let me help you with that”, as though we couldn’t possibly know what we need or how to navigate? Or had a date actually ignore a request for assistance in another way or in the way that actually would help?
This has definitely come up on more than one date with a man in my life: the chauvinistic and paternalistic “wow, you do so well, considering”, draws on a pervasive assumption that my disability prevents me from living my life. Inaccurate.
My advice? It can be really hard to distinguish between sexism, misogyny and ableism, but one thing is clear: If you’re feeling stigmatized or uncomfortable in dating, listen to your instincts. Ableism and other forms of discrimination often find obvious and subtle ways to enter into our dating lives.
For me, part of overthrowing ableism is dismantling misogyny and vice versa. They’re completely intertwined and harmful to people of all genders.
Feminist responses to ableism in dating include defending respect and sexual freedom for all disabled people. Accessibilizing is a process.
These acts of resistance can take many forms, including challenging ableist comments, resisting the urge to ask uninvited questions, ensuring a venue or show is accessible for your date, supporting disabled family members in their dating pursuits, negotiating consent with cards or a list, working for physical accessibility, learning sign language and more. If we join together, we can break down all kinds of barriers and go on some great dates.
Thank you so much to those respondents who shared their insights and experiences. It’s important to note that these respondents aren’t representative of their communities, however, as there is no universal experience of disability, there is also no universal design when it comes to accessible dating. There are certainly commonalities between stories, but each experience and story is particular to the teller.
If you have ways that you’ve experienced ableism in dating and want to share them for a future piece or just to vent, you can email Aimee at aimee@underwatercity.ca. You can also visit her website http://aimeelouw.com and her blog http://underwatercityproject.tumblr.com/ for more.

Josée wants to discuss about ACSEXE+!

Our project manager, Josée, wrote her first blog post:

Last month, I was lucky enough to became project manager for ACSEXE. I spent the last month familiarizing myself with what has been done…a month to read, discuss, think … without succeeding in completely deciding on what to do so that ACSEXE shines more and is even more interesting for those interested by the project.

The project is important to me personally. I think of the teenage little Josée, who saw her friends having their first sexual experiences, and wondering if she would be able to have “normal” sex with her stiff legs and body. I think back to my early 20s, when I was on dating sites, with an invisible handicap in my pictures, tooking hours to think about when and how and why to tell about my difference before dating. I think of the Josée in her mid-twenties (and that’s not so long ago), who, after a sex life with the same partner for years, wondered how to communicate her differences and abilities with more ephemeral partners. And even more recently, the big Josée, who was wondering last week where to find, these partners open to a love story with a “different” person?

I feel like sharing all of this with you. But that’s my reality. And yours is different. You certainly have questions, solutions, things to say, ideas for the project …

ACSEXE, it’s not just me, it’s us.

You want to participate in the project and share your ideas, exchange, collaborate on this blog … I want to hear from you! Write me at jrochon@fqpn.qc.ca.

Josée

The Ableism in Dating Post

Ableism shows up everywhere. So how does it enter into the dating world?

“Ableism in dating is not overt, aggressive or necessarily oppressive. It is the things NOT SAID, the quiet questions, the missed opportunities born out of fear…”-Andrew Morrison-Gurza, founder of Deliciously Disabled

Ableism can be defined as systemic discrimination based on disability. Basically, you know those encounters that you have that make you feel bad about your disability? Or those barriers that prevent you from having your needs or desires met?

These are a few instances of ableism gathered by interview from people in Quebec and beyond. These are excerpts from interviews/ conversations conducted over the phone and by email. Some people preferred to be anonymous. Some people have websites you can check out!
An anonymous interviewee put it this way:

“I tried online dating a couple of times. I found it so stressful. Having to come out as disabled because it is not obvious online in my case. Having to perform the story : “hey I’m disabled but it’s not that bad.” I can’t do this anymore. it makes me sick.Many friends tell me I should make more efforts and date more often, but I just don’t feel like I have the energy for that right now.”-Anonymous I

Some people said there was more ableism in the families of partners than with partners themselves:

“Most of the people I was seeing, were friends before. So ableism was not manifested in comparison with those who I didn’t know before. They already knew what’s up. The only ableist aspect with seeing friends, is they were more concerned with how their families would react to our relationship.It was like, ‘ya we could get serious, but its gonna get complicated with our families talking’. They were being honest, I guess..”
-Gift Tshuma, member of Accessibilize Montreal, Sociology Student

Another anonymous interviewee shared similar experiences:

 “The most common experiences that I have gone through have been attached to the wheelchair and my speech disability and the connotations that others have when they are not aware of my disability. Challenges are seen in the form of either

a) not being able to enter a popular bar or club that a date would have liked to spend a night out or

b) the appearance of being drunk due to lack of coordination and slurred speech or

c) the first time awkwardness linked to getting intimate.

On a secondary level, I have observed ableism from the family and friends of the individuals that I have dated in past.“    -Anonymous II

We’ve written in an earlier post about some of the barriers to meeting people.

This anonymous interviewee talks more about their experience with online dating:

“There are all kinds of reactions. most of the time people feel sorry. and that hurts just as when someone stops replying because they got scared.”
-Anonymous I

On staying in the wrong relationship…

“There’s two fears right:

1) to not be accepted and

2) of being alone.

I [have] stayed in relationships so that I wouldn’t be alone. But you’re hurting yourself, because its like a poison, it seeps in the farther you go. You get to a point where you say, how did we get here? Wish we had dealt with this earlier…”-Gift Tsuma

We’re not proposing solutions here, just sharing experiences. This is the first post of many on the topic. Thank you so much to those who bared their souls, you’re brave and we’re more alike than you know! <3

Get in touch if you would like to share a story with us, anonymously or publicly! Or use hashtag #ableistdate

When inaccessibility gets in the way of dating

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.

ACSEXE+///ACSEXE+///ACSEXE+///ACSEXE+///ACSEXE+///ACSEXE+///

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:)