Dating and practicalities
Although it would be great to say that disability should have no bearing on your relationships, there are often practical issues to consider.
"Access isn't just about getting into buildings. Sensory disabilities require different things," says Penny Pepper, author of Desires, an erotica anthology about disabled people, sex and relationships. "A deaf person may want good lighting to be able to lip-read, a vision-impaired person may need facilities for their guide dog, and some people may need to know there is a quiet area at the venue where you can hang out." Think about your home too: "'Come back to my place', may not sound that appealing if your partner is worrying about whether they're going to trip over the furniture or if they'll be able to use your loo."
It's not just physical disabilities that can have an effect on dating and socialising: someone with Aspergers Syndrome may find it hard to read subtle messages and feel lost in social situations. The answer is communication: tell your partner about anything that may affect the relationship. Don't go into it at length on a first date - that's a time for getting to know each other and it'll come across a bit strong if you start explaining exactly how to deal with a manic mood swing or a colostomy bag over dinner. But don't be afraid to tell your partner what to expect as your relationship progresses - and how to deal with it.
Some people with disabilities need a personal assistant (PA) to help them. Penny says: "Make sure your relationship with your PA is respectful and honest and that you know your mutual boundaries. A good PA can be a godsend and will blend into the background as directed by you."
One girl told me her Dad ordered her not to wear make-up because she would never have a boyfriend, but when she came home by taxi, he accused her of shagging the taxi driver!
If your parents are being over-protective, you may need to give them a gentle reminder them that you're old enough to make your own choices. Dr Tuppy Owens, founder of Outsiders, a self-help group for disabled people, says: "One girl told me her Dad ordered her not to wear make-up because she would never have a boyfriend, but when she came home by taxi, he accused her of shagging the taxi driver!"
If you face any stigma for dating someone who's got a disability, remind yourself that you're the one that picks your partners, not your friends and family. If they're too narrow-minded to see past a disability, that's their problem. Don't see disability as a big deal and other people are more likely to follow suit.
Who you gonna call?
There are numerous organisations that can offer advice and support. Stars in the Sky and Special Connect both run dating events for people with learning disabilities. Outsiders has been helping people with physical and social disabilities make friends and find partners for over 25 years. "Anyone over 16 can join," says Tuppy. "Nobody is turned away because of physical or social disability. Members who expect to find someone straight away can be disappointed, but many have been delighted with new-found friends and overjoyed when they find someone to love."
The big thing to remember is that if you sit at home feeling isolated, you'll be isolated. But if you take that first step, you're more likely to find love.
Written by Emily Dubberley
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