“Going out with a blind person? Can’t you get anything else?”
That’s what Geoffrey Long remembers being said to the girl he was
with on his very first date. He was just 17 and remembers the shock
he felt. It wasn’t long before he realised that such a reaction was
not a one-off.
Yet this experience did not deter Long, who was born blind, from
choosing to date other non-disabled women. “I had this thing of
wanting to date girls to prove that a blind person could. I had
this silly idea that if I dated a girl with full sight then that
was some kind of kudos for me,” he says.
Like many disabled people, Long had to think carefully about
where he could go on a date that would be both enjoyable and
practical. He says that given his blindness there was little point
in going to watch a film, and so restaurants, pubs and walks were
his preferred options. But even then, his blindness could cause him
unexpected – and extremely unromantic – problems.
“On one date I had been with a girl to the pub and then a
Chinese restaurant. It had all gone well and she had agreed to come
back to my flat. The trouble was, I was bursting for a pee in the
restaurant. I didn’t know where the loo was and out of
embarrassment didn’t like to ask her. I only just made it back to
the flat in time,” he recalls, cringing at the memory.
Of course, it wasn’t just when he was on the dates that Long’s
disability caused him problems – his disability also affected his
“If you are sighted you can scout the talent, look around the
room, see what is available and then make a beeline. If you’re
blind you have to be introduced,” he says.
Despite the added pressure, Long didn’t have difficulty meeting
women. But this isn’t a familiar tale for most disabled people.
Anne Pridmore, who has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user, is
convinced that dating is more difficult for disabled people because
of the way society views them.
“The main restriction is the attitude of non-disabled people to
disabled people. We’re in the 21st century but when it comes to
sexuality you wouldn’t think it,” she says.
She remembers interviewing someone to be her personal assistant.
The candidate was asking probing questions, and wanted to know how
many times a week she took a shower. “I told her ‘every other day
and twice on Sunday, the same as I have sex’,” says Pridmore. The
shocked candidate didn’t hang around.
Pridmore was married for 20 years. Her husband was disabled, but
since he left she has been out with a number of non-disabled men.
But she says that non-disabled men often just want friendship.
“You often find that non-disabled men find you a perfect vehicle
to offload their problems but that when sex rears its head they are
not interested. They don’t envisage you might want anything more.
And for people with a high level of support needs it can be
difficult to portray the body language to move the relationship
on,” she says.
Pridmore’s dates have come from a variety of sources – one she
met when he came round to mend the video, another she contacted
after seeing an ad in the paper. A good job, given that getting to
places to meet potential dates can be a challenge for disabled
people. Singles clubs are often held in inaccessible places on the
presumption that disabled people would not want to come, says
Pridmore, and some dating agencies refuse to even accept disabled
people onto their books.
But it’s not just on the dating circuit that disabled people
face prejudice. A few years ago, Pridmore was trying to get an
electronic gadget to close the curtains in her bedroom, where she
had a double bed. On seeing the double bed, the occupational
therapist remarked that if it were swapped for a single bed there
would be room for a wheelchair to get around it.
“I asked her if she had a partner and she did so I asked her
what made her think that I didn’t have one,” says Pridmore.
Too often, it seems, health and social care workers don’t even
acknowledge that their disabled clients may have – or at least want
– a sex life. Dominic Davies, a psychotherapist who specialises in
sex, says that not enough is done to help workers with this
subject, and suggests that sex education training be introduced in
“Practitioners can find it hard to think about. People have
their own sexual histories and that can get in the way of helping
disabled people. They may feel protective if they have been
exploited themselves, so we need to start with the self-awareness
of workers,” he says.
He adds that from a young age disabled people are often
discouraged from seeing themselves as sexual, and are rarely given
the privacy to allow a relationship to develop.
“If they want to begin to be sexual they have their
relationships monitored by workers and carers who rather than
facilitating disabled people end up policing them and inhibiting
them,” says Davies.
Where workers do want to help, management and policies often
prevent them out of fear that the disabled person will end up being
abused or exploited, says Davies. So discussions about sex only
take place in the context of preventing and identifying sexual
abuse rather than considering it as a consensual and pleasurable
Disabled people, like everyone else, have romantic and sexual
needs. It is surely the responsibility of health and social care
professionals to make sure that they are given every opportunity to
- Research for this article was assisted by Cupid Calls, an
online dating service that encourages membership from disabled
people. Visit www.cupidcalls.co.uk
Comments on dating from disabled people
“Care professionals ought to stop giving us platitudes and help
us meet like-minded people on the basis of our intellect and
interests instead of just likewise disabled individuals.”
“Most females see my disability and get put off. With all the
help I need I would have to know if my partner could cope with
that. A lot of people just want the easy option.” Jazz
“If you go to a dating agency, do you put down you’re disabled
or tell people after you have got in touch? I don’t think you would
get replies if you did say. I was told off by one man I was in
touch with that I’d been misleading in my profile.”
“I wear a night pad as I am unable to get out of bed without
assistance to use the toilet. A pad does not make instantaneous
lovemaking a possibility as there would need to be preparation and
forethought.” Chris Thomas (not her real
“I live in a care home so don’t always have a lot of privacy.
Staff often want to know who my friends are which is fine from an
informal point of view but in some cases can be a bit intrusive.”