Blind Date’s View on Disabled Dating

Lilley sits smiling with candle light reflected on her face. On the ring finger of her right hand, a silver Irish Claddagh ring inlaid with small diamonds and sapphires is visible. The design is of a heart, with two hands (one on either side of the heart) and a crown (above the heart), and the heart's point faces inwards.

Last week, I mentioned how often people make comments to my partners about how kind or brave they are for dating a disabled person. Their response to this is that they don’t see it as a burden. They see it as a privilege to be dating me. Well, I’m flawed, so it isn’t always easy. But as I said in my previous article, this has nothing to do with my disability. I offer as much as my partners do in the relationship, and I am not reliant on them. So let’s talk about disabled dating a little bit more.

I’m a little like a South African Taylor Swift. “I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your name.”  I write songs about my exes, and I’ve been called a serial monogamist, meaning that I have had very long relationships (often spanning years) that have ended. But eh, that’s alright, it’s only the last one that lasts, isn’t it?

I have dated both disabled and nondisabled people, and both types of dating have different nuances. Dating a fellow blind person means that you have to Uber everywhere, and you can’t help each other with tasks that require sight, but it would have been exactly the same if I had been single, and I’m perfectly capable of living alone. The cool thing about dating a blind person for me, is that they understand my daily experiences and my frustrations in a way that no nondisabled person can.

On the other hand, I don’t find it difficult to date a nondisabled person, as long as that person is open minded, and doesn’t try to wrap me in cotton wool. Of course, there are practical aspects that come into play, in the sense that the sighted partner can help me when I drop something and can’t find it, can drive the two of us places, and of course it makes shopping a whole lot easier. This isn’t a clinical weighing up of advantages and disadvantages though. It’s the individual, and the way you click that truly matters.

One myth that I would definitely like to dispel is that disabled girls are easy. Think of Howard in The Big Bang Theory, when he and his friends were in a bar trying to pick up women. He says his strategy is to allow the jocks to thin out the crowd until only “the old, the sick and the lame” are left. He says “Oh, and if you spot a chick with a Seeing Eye dog, she’s mine.”

Howard shows a lot of character growth in the series going forward, but at this point he was still a bit of a creep. His comment was a reflection of who the character is at this stage, so I don’t blame the show for it. However, what might have been a better portrayal of stereotypes vs the reality of disabilities and dating would have been if Howard did actually approach the girl with the guide dog and she turned him down, or if she was shown leaving with an attractive man (or woman).

Disabled women (and disabled people of any gender) are not desperate. Many of us are attractive, or at least perfectly comfortable in our own skin, and many of us do not find it difficult to meet dates or partners who find us appealing. Society’s view of what constitutes an attractive body is skewed anyway.

Incidentally, a better portrayal of disability stereotypes in The Big Bang Theory was when the character Raj was dating a deaf girl, and Leonard was worried that she was using him for his money. Penny says to him: “Handicapped people are nice, Leonard. Everyone knows that.” It’s a common stereotype that if you’re disabled, you can’t possibly be amoral. However, later on we see that Raj’s girlfriend does turn out to be a gold digger, so Penny was proven wrong.

On that note, I’ve often heard comments along the lines of “since you can’t see, you must be so much less shallow than the rest of us! You must go entirely on someone’s personality.” This is not true. Blind people can be as shallow as anyone else. Although I like to believe that I primarily choose partners based on personality, I have to admit that there are certain body types, for example, that I find more attractive than others. I notice things like this by holding onto someone’s arm, or giving them a hug. Even hearing where someone’s voice comes from gives a good idea of their height. And speaking of voices, I melt for a man with a gorgious voice. I don’t mean he has to be able to sing, but he has to have a voice I like, or we’re unlikely to get to the next level. It can so happen that I meet someone, start liking them due to other factors, then actually start liking their voice after I’ve started liking the other aspects, but a nice voice is often one of the first things that attract me to people.

At any rate, on to my next point. If you’re ever on a first date with a blind person, you’re not being helpful and romantic if you offer to let them touch your face. The media loves this trope. It pops up in music videos, movies and shows all the time. Blind people generally do not go around sensitively touching people’s faces. It’s just weird, man! Especially during Covid times, it’s not a good idea anyway. Yes, of course I’ve touched the faces of my partners, but it is in the same way that a sighted person in a relationship probably has touched their partner’s face. It only happens once you’re a lot more intimate than having just met and gone on a first date.

If you plan to go on a date with a disabled person, the main thing to remember is to ask, not just do. Perhaps a blind person wants to walk alone with their guide dog, but they might appreciate if you offer to guide them by letting them take your elbow. Do not grab them by the shoulders and steer though. We’re not cars! Same goes for wheelchair users. They will ask if they want to be pushed.

In addition, don’t leave your blind date in the middle of an open area while you do something else, because that can be disconcerting and they will feel in the way. Maybe show them a chair or table, or whatever. Also definitely tell them if you’re going somewhere, because it’s embarrassing to be seen “talking to ghosts” as I call it, not realising that the person I’m with is not there.

Sure, it’s gentlemanly to pull out a girl’s chair, but tell her if you do so, or she might assume it’s there, sit down, and make an intimate connection with the floor instead of with you. This has actually almost happened to me.

When it comes to dinner conversation, don’t be scared to ask about your date’s disability, but also make sure that isn’t the only topic of conversation. Remember, they’re used to being asked about it all the time, and it gets tedious. Get to know the person, not just the disability.

If you find that the waiter is insisting on addressing you when they are talking about your disabled date’s order (this happens all the time), tell them to speak directly to the disabled person. We can speak for ourselves, and we don’t bite!

Dating apps are also an interesting topic of conversation when it comes to disabled people and dating. Tinder is quite inaccessible with a screen reader, but I have a friend who uses Bumble. He says that two of the most frustrating experiences for him are when there is only a picture and no profile description (he immediately swipes left when he sees this) and also when people ghost him immediately when they find out he’s disabled. On the bright side, he has recently met a lovely girl, and after much conversation and a few very successful dates, they are now in a relationship.

Finally, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t say something about the movie Me Before You. This movie is a mine field when it comes to portraying disability in a way that creates completely wrong perceptions of disability. I’m not going to go into the “assisted suicide is fine when it comes to disabled people, because their lives must be so terrible” rhetoric right now. It goes beyond the scope of this article, and I will address it in another. However, there’s a scene in which the disabled male lead tells Emilia Clarke’s character that he doesn’t want to sleep with her, because she could have so much better, and he doesn’t want that to be her memory. This is utter bullshit (forgive my language). I’m not saying there aren’t disabled people who have internalised ableism, and it’s fair to portray those people in literature and TV, but right now it just sends completely the wrong message.

Speaking for myself, for my disabled friends, and for many disabled people I’ve met and liked, you’d be lucky to have us. A life with a disabled partner is not half a life. It could be an incredibly rewarding one. Next time you meet a disabled person that you’re attracted to, why not (respectfully) ask to get to know them, then perhaps ask for their number, and maybe, just maybe, if they like you back, you might embark on one hell of an interesting and fun journey.

13 FAQs

Lilley is lying on her stomach on the grass with her guide dog Teska beside her. She is wearing blue jeans and a long sleeved blue V-necked T-shirt. Her chin rests in her left hand, and she is holding a glass of wine in the other. A stable is visible in the background.

This week’s article is going to address some of the frequently asked questions that I get from nondisabled people. This is more an article about me, and my specific situation, as opposed to one about disability in general. However, perhaps you can glean some insights that can be applied to other blind or otherwise disabled people.

  1. “How do you brush your teeth?” This is one of the more silly questions that I get, but you’d be surprised how frequently I get it. The answer is that I take my toothbrush, run some water on it, take the toothpaste tube, open it, squeeze a certain amount of toothpaste onto my toothbrush, stick the toothbrush in my mouth, and move it around so that the bristles clean my teeth. Duh! I brush my teeth like anyone else does. People don’t actually look in the mirror all the time when brushing their teeth. Why should it be a challenge for me?
  2. “May I pet your dog?” Yes, absolutely, as long as you ask me first, and as long as she isn’t busy working. The thing that I have a problem with is when I’m on my way somewhere (sometimes in a hurry) and someone jumps in front of me and starts petting her without even acknowledging my existence. It’s just plain rude and inconsiderate. Acknowledge the human behind the dog. Also, people seem to feel that my dog (or any dog) is public property, and they are not. Would you go up to any random pregnant woman and pat her stomach, or would you even touch someone else’s child without permission? When something like this happens, I often feel like sarcastically saying: “Oh yes, of course you may pet my dog. It’s not like I was on my way anywhere or like I have a life or anything.” Also please never call a person’s guide dog, especially not from across the street. This distracts them, and could be dangerous if they listen to you and make a beeline across a busy road. However, most times when people actually acknowledge me and ask, I will allow them to say hi to Teski and pet her.
  3. “How does your dog know where to go?” She doesn’t. I tell her where to go by saying “left” “right”, or “forward” combined with hand gestures. It isn’t her job to know where to go. Her job is to make sure I don’t walk into people and obstacles, fall down steps, or walk across a road without stopping. She will stop at a curb, I listen for traffic, and I tell her to go forward when I think it’s safe. She is trained to disobey me in that one command though, if she sees a car that I missed for some reason. She also becomes familiar with routes that we have often walked, so she will tend to walk familiar routes unless I tell her otherwise.
  4. “How much can you see?” I am classified as legally blind, and I don’t see enough to read, write, drive, or move around in an unfamiliar environment without a cane or a dog. I do have light perception, so I can usually see what time of day it is, if the sun is shining, and some things about my environment such as where there are windows. I can’t see colours, but I can distinguish different shades. I used to be able to see colours when I was a little girl, but my eye condition is deteriorating. I know what most colours look like. I just can’t tell them apart anymore by looking at them. My understanding of what colours look like are based on memory. Interestingly, the only colour that I’ve never seen (so struggle to picture) is purple. I just know that it is sort of a combination of red and blue. This has actually made it quite a special colour to me. Lastly, I can often see when there is a person in front of me, but I wouldn’t be able to see what they look like. I can see more or less depending on the lighting, and I see best when there are contrasts.
  5. “How did you become blind,” or “Have you been blind since birth?” The answer is that I’ve been blind since birth, and my eye condition is a genetic condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). It has to do with pigmentation on the retina. Not that this is very important to me, but it is highly unlikely that any children I might have will have the condition, unless I were to have children with someone with exactly the same gene. I don’t mind telling people about my eye condition, but I would generally advise you to avoid asking someone how they became disabled as a rule, unless you know that person well. This is because some people have had highly traumatic experiences that caused their disabilities, such as perhaps having been in a terrible car accident. It can be considered to be a bit nosy as well. Also, for the love of wine, never, ever ask a disabled person anything about their toilet habits. None of your beeswax.
  6. “Are your other senses stronger?” No, but just as the muscle in a right-handed person’s left arm would become much stronger than might have usually been the case if they lost their right arm, my ears are trained to pick up details that others would miss. In this sense, my hearing is better than that of most sighted people.
  7. “How do you dream?” This is an interesting one. I obviously interpret it to mean “Do you see any differently in your dreams?” The short answer is that, in my dreams, I see as I see when I am awake. All my senses in the dream world work like my senses do in the real world. This means that completely blind people will also not see at all in their dreams. However, (and this is the interesting part) people who have lost their sight might still have dreams in which they can see. This is based on memory.
  8. How do you work, answer emails, make social media posts etc?” I use my phone and my computer, and they have programmes installed called screen readers. They do exactly what the name implies. They read what is on the screen, and I navigate around using the arrow keys. I never use a mouse. Aside from this, I also know braille. This is a tactile system involving six dots used in different combinations to make letters. I don’t use it often anymore, aside from when a restaurant has a braille menu, when I am making a speech or giving a talk and use notes, or when I am trying to learn a new language. Learning braille definitely had a massive impact on my ability to spell, regardless of what my mother might tell you about my spelling.
  9. How do you pick out your clothes?” Aside from what a clothing item physically looks like, it has other distinguishers such as the type of material, and the cut. I recognise most of my clothes, because they differ from other items in my closet. If they are of the same material and cut, but they are of different colours, I would usually ask someone which is which, or else I could arrange them in my closet in a way in which I would know, for example, that the blue dress always hangs to the left of the green one. I choose the clothing that I buy according to texture and cut, and also according to colour. I would obviously just need to be told what colours are available.
  10. “What is the most ableist thing anyone has ever said to you?” This one isn’t as frequently asked as the rest, but it has been asked, and I felt it was worth a mention. It is highly insulting when people tell my partners how they are incredibly good people for dating me. You know, they really are, because I’m difficult, but people usually mean it with reference to the fact that I’m disabled. I bring as much to my relationships as my partners bring, and it’s not as if they do everything for me and I am completely reliant on them. Another example (and this one is a double whammy of ableism and sexism( was the time that a guy told me that women don’t need to be as dominant as I am, then asked if I have such a dominant personality because I’m trying to compensate for my disability. It’s such a pity that I was so shocked that I only came up with a comeback half an hour later, and it was too late to say it by then. “I know you’re not a woman, but you don’t need to have such a dominant personality as a man either, so what exactly are you trying to compensate for?”
  11. Do you ever get sad that you’re blind?” No, I mostly don’t. There are two reasons. Firstly, I’ve been blind all my life, so as I see it, you can’t miss what you’ve never had. It is sometimes a bit distressing to me when I notice that my eye condition has deteriorated though, and I find I can’t do something easily that I could do before, or see something I used to find pretty. I also really wish I could drive. I think I would have enjoyed it, and the independence it would bring. Secondly, I am part of a disability community, and we find pride in our disabilities. I don’t see my blindness as a problem. As I’ve said before in my previous article, I see discrimination, exclusion and inaccessibility as a problem. If someone figured out a cure for my condition, I’m honestly not even completely sure that I’d go for it. It would be one hell of an adjustment, and it could possibly even be traumatising. More importantly than this though, I’m comfortable in my identity.
  12. “Can I pray for you?” Yeah sure, but please pray that I will experience inclusion in the situations that I encounter, or even just pray that I eventually find the right life partner, or that I one day establish a successful business and live my purpose. Don’t decide for me what I should find important. My blindness in and of itself is not an issue which I consider important. It is also not a defect, a generational curse, a sign that I just don’t have faith in being “healed”, a sign that my family is being punished by God for something, or the devil’s work. Although I am agnostic, I absolutely respect your faith, but please also respect my views on my own disability. In addition, please can we not do this out loud in public? It makes me feel like a spectacle.
  13. “How many fingers am I holding up?” Um, I don’t know, because I’m blind, and that means that I can’t… wait for it… see! Okay, I don’t get this question from adults (often). But parents, (although I have incredible patience for children asking questions) please teach your children about disabilities, and please teach them not to do this! It’s annoying.