By Bridget Gum-Egan
Our society has come up with some rather impressive and subtle ways to exclude individuals with disabilities from the general population. Due to this fact, I have often had to educate myself on disabled culture and what life is like for others like me. One thing that was challenging to learn about was what relationships are like. It is rare to find any information about relationships between people with disabilities. It is even more rare to find a relationship between an individual with a disability and an abled person. To properly educate myself, I decided to base my sophomore health class research project on the relationship habits of individuals with disabilities, or, usually, lack thereof.
A brief Google search led me down a depressing and disgusting rabbit hole, revealing my three possible futures.
Option one, the most common option, is meeting someone who is immediately horrified or not willing to date someone with a disability. According to some truly awful blogs and opinion pieces I read by abled people, people with disabilities look weird or remind them of sick and dying people. Plus, no one really wants to deal with what that person can or can’t do or accessibility problems, because that’s too much of a headache for the abled person.
I immediately got a flashback to middle school when I had asked a friend of mine to go to the dance with me and he responded, “Ew, no. Can you even dance? Plus, pictures would be weird because you can’t stand.” Unfortunately, this was not the last time that happened to me. I then read story after story about people who didn’t include in their dating profile that they had a disability, and their date was either visibly disappointed or disgusted upon meeting them. One woman’s date left as soon as she sat down because she looked better in her profile picture, where you couldn’t see her wheelchair.
Option two, a creepy subculture, was being fetishized. Sometimes, when people disclose their disability on dating apps, they receive messages. Sounds great, right? Until they realized that there is a fetish for people with disabilities and watching them struggle to do things. My body cringed when I read this and still does to this day. I am not some object for people to stare at as I try to do things, nor is anyone else with a disability.
Option three, the hope, is meeting someone completely comfortable and happy being with a person who has a disability. These people have normal relationships and seem genuinely happy and accepting, a rarity in most of the lives of individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I saw that a majority of people in these healthy relationships had less severe or invisible disabilities, meaning they looked more “normal” and, by society’s standards, dateable.
These stigmas are even reflected in the media. When you see an individual with a disability in a movie or television show, which is rare in and of itself, they are usually not in a relationship. As an individual who has been integrated into abled society my whole life, I’m constantly educating people and dealing with stereotypes and stigmas. People automatically assume that if I’m hanging out with a guy, it is platonic and will frequently interrupt or ask me condescendingly “Ooo, you’re with a boy?” as if I’m a child. Honestly, I’m not even surprised given how people with disabilities have been represented in the media and the lack of interaction. The lack of representation also makes people with disabilities believe that their future won’t consist of a healthy, happy relationship and they will be alone forever.
Why does having a disability have to be synonymous with being weird or gross? Why can’t my wheelchair be seen as beautiful? Why is it strange for me to be seen alone with a guy? Everyone with a disability deserves to enjoy all aspects of life, including the possibility of a positive relationship.
sophomore English major
Originally printed in the 4/20/22 issue