Relationships & Sex

Is online dating becoming more accessible?

New research has shown that online dating is now considered one of the most popular ways to meet a romantic partner, and many people even use online dating as a way to make new, platonic friends. Online dating apps and websites make the world of romance easier to dive into than before, especially if you’re disabled.

In comparison to the real-life dating world, there are fewer awkward chat-up lines and no need to wade through crowded bars if you have access issues. Using the internet to find a romantic partner you can eliminate much of that awkwardness and limitations. It means you can speak to the person online first to find out if you like one another before taking it to the next step of meeting in real life.

It’s for these reasons that 15% of American adults have now used an online dating site or a mobile dating app, according to a Pew Research Center study published in 2016.

The Pew Research data also states that 59% of American adults now feel that online dating is a good way to meet people. These figures had jumped dramatically from 2005, when Pew Research first began to poll people about online dating. In 2005, just 44% of respondents suggested that online dating was a good way to meet people.

The rise of mobile apps and the increased ease of use in getting into online dating has likely had the biggest impact on these adult’s perception.

But although online dating can feel like the most accessible way to find a partner, for some communities it can still feel like an exclusive environment. Yes, online dating can be great for white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and able-bodied people. But what about those who do not identify with all of those labels? Is the world of online dating still accessible even if you are part of a marginalised community?

Dating when you’re disabled

Since online dating first became a thing, it seems to have become more accessible for people with disabilities. Slowly but surely, online dating websites and apps are becoming more inclusive. This is, in part, down to the huge growth of the online dating industry.

The knock on affect of is that there are more disabled people on dating platforms, so more people to connect with.

There are two benefits to this. Firstly, as a disabled person, you may be looking to date another disabled person. But, in addition, it means that able-bodied people might be more open to the idea of dating someone with a disability as they’re seeing it more readily.

It also means that if you do mention your disability in your profile bio, you are less likely to get 20 questions about it, such as how you got your impairment.

Telling your date you have a disability

If you’re disabled and have just entered the world of online dating, one of the most common questions that you may find yourself asking is whether or not you should tell your prospective date that you have a disability.

In this case, making the perfect profile is less about getting the lighting right on the gallery of selfies or struggling to figure out which is your best side. It’s also more than just putting the funniest jokes or most pertinent facts in your bio – your height, your go-to karaoke song and whether or not you have a really cute dog.

Having to disclose your disability may feel like a huge pressure because – depending on what your disability is – it can affect where you go on the date and even how long the date is. Going for a hike through the Brecon Beacons isn’t exactly an ideal date if you use a wheelchair. Instead, you’ll need to choose somewhere that will meet your needs, such having accessible toilets or a ramp into the venue.

If you plan to meet someone that you’ve matched with in real-life, then revealing this information beforehand may be easier or, it may be obvious, depending on how visible your disability is.

If you only tell your date on the day you meet, they may feel uncomforatble about having had something ‘dropped’ on them. You also may want to gauge their reaction in an online setting to be sure that they will accept you for who you are.

If you’re struggling to write your online profile, read Disability Horizons’ guide to writing the best online dating profile.

Dating as an LGBT disabled person

Similarly, over the last few years, the accessibility of online dating for LGBT people, disabled or not, has come on leaps and bounds. Revealing the fact that you’re gay, bisexual, or transgender, as well as disabled, is no longer something you have to do yourself as most online dating apps give you the ability to set your preferences.

For example, you can say whether you’re interested in men, women, or both, and you can also state your gender identity – whether you’re cisgender, transgender, or identify as a non-binary person.

Many would agree that this is one of the biggest benefits of online LGBT dating. You no longer have to do the awkward dance around whether or not you’re both gay. It also removes the risk of falling for someone who isn’t interested in your gender, or has a hang-up about dating someone transgendered. Online dating apps remove that barrier, making it much easier to find love.

Online dating apps have also made finding other LGBT people to date far more accessible than traditional routes. All across the world, gay bars are closing as a result of increased rent prices. This means that there is one less way to meet other LGBT people to date and gives people an extra reason to turn to online dating, espeically if you’re disabled.

Moreover, although more people are coming out as LGBT, you may not feel entirely comfortable looking for a romantic partner in real life yet, especially if you have a disability too. But online dating apps can help to ease you into it ,and find a romantic partner in a way that suits you.

Online dating for disabled people in ethnic minorities

Although this may come as a surprise to some, many people still face significant hurdles in the online dating world because of their ethnicity. Like white disabled people, many black and minority ethnic people have felt ostrisised while using online dating sites in the past, espeically if they’re disabled as well.

Previously, you may have been concerned that there are few people like you on the site, or that there has been an inability to find people who share or care to understand your culture. You may have also witnessed fetishisation (when someone has a fetish for a particular ethnicity, which thus objectifies them) or the use of epithets to describe your skin tone.

But it is the sharing of stories like these that has made a huge difference, and online dating apps and websites have been proactive in tackling these issues, acting on the feedback. Many of these sites and apps now feature reporting functions that allow you to highlight questionable content in profiles, as well as direct abuse, allowing the dating site to do something about it.

The future of online dating

It isn’t just white, cisgendered, heterosexual and able-bodied people who date. Black and minority ethnic, LGBT and disabled people are all looking for their romantic partners too. It is, therefore, so incredibly important that online dating websites and apps continue to make their platforms feel inclusive to everyone.

From the ability to add your identity to your profile, to reporting negative experiences, online dating sites are already making an effort to be more welcoming to all kinds of people.

These features and developments have gone a long way, but there are many more steps that online dating platforms need to take. For example, given the awkwardness sometimes experienced when disclosing a disability, it may make sense for online dating apps to offer a selection of pre-written explanations or conversation starters that can be used to get your match talking about your impairments.

They could also expand the list of LGBT identities to choose from in an effort to accommodate all of the ways in which people are choosing to describe themselves.

The online dating industry grows by approximately 3.9% each year, meaning that these platforms are set to welcome many more marginalised people from across all walks of life. This will make it entirely necessary for online dating apps and websites to become more inclusive, so watch this space…

By Pew Research Center

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