My Take: Dating Someone with a Disability
I was out with my date, and enjoying myself with him, as usual, when he decided that he needed to go to the men’s room. The men’s room attendant, who observed my date making his way to the restroom, hastened towards me to ask, “Don’t you think you should go in there with him?” I gave him a blank stare, and blurted, “Hell no!”
You see, he felt the need to ask that ridiculous question because my date was blind. Of course, when my date returned, I told him about the situation. His retort was priceless: “What does he want you to do? Hold it for me?” It became a running joke for the remainder of the relationship.
That combination of a fabulous sense of humour and stubborn independence was what attracted me to my ex in the first place (the smooth voice didn’t hurt either). While I noticed his disability, his hawtness was what got me hooked.
Of course, dating a person with a disability means that you have to deal with family, friends and society – like any other relationship. What can make it a bit challenging, though, is that in many ways, society is very ambivalent and presumptuous about the idea of people with a disability having relationships.
I’ve had people tell me that disabled people are constantly horny
I remember being very rudely asked if my partner was capable of having sex, or worse…if I was taking advantage of him. To the first question, I answered that I did not know that sight was a requirement to have sex. To the second one, I just walked away.
People were surprised when I introduced him as my boyfriend. Some even assumed that I was his guide (like the men’s room attendant). In this situation, you have to decide whether or not you will shrug it off, laugh it off, humour the comments, or confront them. Family, friends, and even the ‘man in the street’’ will ask you all sorts of questions, so you have to figure out how to handle them.
But here’s my take. When you’re in a relationship, what matters is how you and that person relate to and treat each other. I think the biggest issue is how to negotiate if and when your partner will need any help. In my case, since I am a pretty independent person, I date people with that same trait. So, yes, my partner was self-sufficient.
However, if he asked for help, I gave it. Eventually, like any other couple, we figured out who was good at what and divided the labour. It really does depend on the type of person you are dating, how independent they are, and the particular situations his or her disability places you in.
Dating someone with a disability can bring you into contact with some not-so-average situations. So you have to be open-minded and flexible, and it helps to have a sense of humour. You don’t have to know everything about having a disability. It simply means that you have to get to know the person’s particular disability.
First of all, there is a wide range of disabilities – not just the ones we’re more familiar with, e.g. deaf, blind/visually impaired, wheelchair users, down syndrome, amputees, and persons who are visibly disabled. There are also persons with invisible disabilities, such as Crohn’s disease, mental illness, irritable bowel syndrome, and autism.
I also had in-depth conversations with the guy at the beginning of the relationship
Finding out about the person you are dating is important, down to the simplest of issues, like how to refer to your partner’s disability. Let’s be honest, many people tend to not know how to refer to disabilities, and you really don’t want to offend anyone, especially someone you like.
There are many terms for various disabilities floating around – cripple, one-legged man, visually impaired, mentally challenged, mad, handicapped, differently-abled, and a whole host of other labels.
It was a bit daunting for me to find the vocabulary needed to even talk about the disability. So, in order to get off on the right foot, I simply asked. He told me he was cool with blind, as well as any metaphor that uses sight. However, I also made sure to ask what he didn’t like to be referred to. What is okay with one person might offend another. Do what your mom says, and don’t assume.
Unfortunately, I made an assumption that gave me a bit of rude awakening. It was about the ease with which my date and I would get from Point A to Point B.
As we all know, depending on where you live, public transportation in Trinidad and Tobago is usually a problem. When you’re dating someone who is disabled, transportation is even trickier. If you, or your partner, have a vehicle, that issue is a bit less of a problem. Note, I said a bit less, because being a driver has its own level of frustrations.
It was only when I began dating a blind guy that I truly began to realise how poorly constructed our streets, street signage and pavements are. And don’t even mention the driving on the roads. It can make things very challenging for a blind, deaf or physically challenged pedestrian. Hell, it makes things difficult for those without a physical disability. Added to which, in many cases, if a person is visibly disabled, taxi and maxi drivers tend not to want to pick them up. So yes…going out can be a challenge, at times. And let’s not talk about the stares.
However, after you get accustomed to the adjustments needed to make this kind of relationship work, you really do get down to the business of being in a relationship. You’ll have all of the issues, pleasures and frustrations that you will have in any relationship. There will the kisses, the I love yous, the I-really-cyar-take-you-on-right-now-nah moments, the fights, makeups, and, yes, the breakup. In hindsight, one of the things my ex and I agreed on is that the relationship did not start because of his disability, and it did not end because of it either. I was in a relationship with another human being with strengths and weaknesses. And when you are dating a person with a disability that is the issue that ultimately matters.
Image credit: loverollson.wordpress.com
Nicole Henry is currently pursuing a degree in Sociology with a minor in Social Policy at The University of the West Indies. She has a special place in her heart for disability and mental health issues. She also loves to write, and her taste in music ranges from gospel and soft rock to classical, roots and zydeco (Google that). Domiciled in the 'safe' suburb of Morvant, she is seeking to further fund her addiction to Bijoux Terner and Wonderful World merchandise.